Tales of the Crimson Widow (Eliza T. Creststeel)


Wiki Staff
Tales of the Crimson Widow

Chapter One

"Avast!" cried the captain. "Secure those lines! This storm be a wicked one! Hold her steady! We're going right through..."

The valiant officer gripped the helmswheel as the ship forded through the maelstrom.


"Hold fast now!" the stern captain shouted.

Struggling to keep the mighty vessel on course, the captain could feel the helm's wheel fighting back.

"Elizabeth Thomasina Creststeel!!"

The young girl turned and raised the over-sized hat to see. She was standing on a crate behind the helm of the Manchester Lady, an old cargo ship moored at the wharf in Southampton. On the dock below stood Lucinda Creststeel, a tall thick woman with graying brown hair. She pointed a finger at young Eliza and then down at the wharf.

"Come down here at once! Is this where you've been?"

Sheepishly the little blonde girl took off the hat and hopped down to the deck. She padded down the gangplank, where Lucinda took her hand.

"Sorry Mum... I were just playin'. My chores were done."

Her mother looked down at the slender girl. She made a face and wiped at Eliza’s face with her apron.

"You're filthy. Look at you! You're a sight."

"Mother, please! Folks are watching..."

Once Lucinda finished dabbing at the smudges, she looked down.

"And where on Earth are your shoes and stockings young lady?"

"We were sailing in warm water..."

Her mother exhaled sharply. She took Eliza by the hand and led her down the dock. Several of the working men waved at them as they passed.

"Morning Captain Eliza...”

“How is your brother John?...”

“Good morrow Mrs. Creststeel... "

Their meager home was still well in sight of the tall masts, being just up the main road. Over the door, the placard read "Wavecrest Import & Export - Thomas Creststeel prop." The stone house was simple, but still kept neat even among the more modest dwellings of the sailing men's family that surrounded it.
Lucinda stopped just inside the door, where a basket of wet clothes lay.

"Get those wrung out and hung up. Ye father be home tonight and he be expecting dinner."

"Yes mum..."

If Eliza stood on the back wall behind the house, she could see the harbor and tops of the sails as the ships embarked and came home. She was doing this, having only finished hanging half of the laundry when she was suddenly grabbed from behind.


She tussled against the larger figure pulling her down off the wall and managed to wrap an arm around their head.

"You little wench!" a muffled voice cried.

The someone pinched her ribs as they grappled. Eliza recognized the voice, and she stopped struggling.


The broad-shouldered youth let go and stepped back. His face was a bit flush from her stranglehold, but he was laughing.

"Quite the grip, little sister."

She smiled, then hugged him. Her eyes brightened.

"If you're home.. then..."

"And how is my little Amazon warrior?" Thomas Creststeel bellowed from the gate.

Thomas stooped, but managed to fit through the doorway; even carrying young Eliza on his hip and his duffel bag over his broad shoulder. His son John followed behind, carrying another cloth sack for his father.

"Truly a homecoming I'm unworthy of. Embraces from my beautiful little girl and a warm house filled with smell of fine food!"

His wife turned from her bread kneading and her faced brightened. Wiping her hands in her apron, she stepped to him and they hugged for several moments. Eliza giggled as he planted a kiss on Lucinda.

"You sailing men can never keep to a schedule... you're early. Dinner is far from finished."

"Blame God, love. The wind was at our backs the whole way home."

He laughed and set down his load, lowering Eliza to her feet. John stepped around his father and his mother gave him a welcoming hug as well. Eliza was already busy looking into her father's bags.

"Did you bring me something from the Americas?"

"Well I wanted to wash and shave before your mother's dinner, but let's see."

Thomas sat and fished into the large duffel. He took out a carved wooden figure of a black cat and gave it to her.

"It's a jaguar; a cat as big as a hunting dog." he told her. "When we were ported in Brazil, some native sold it to me. Said his tribe called themselves the jaguar people. Fierce looking these Indians were, too. Some old Spaniards fought them years ago. Said even the womenfolk would fight. So they called them Amazons, like those Greek stories I told you."

Eliza's eyes were alight as she looked at the little statue.

"So, Amazons are real?"

"Guess so, my girl." Thomas said with a laugh. "You're not the only one." He mussed her hair.

"Thomas..." Lucinda chided. "Don't be filling her head with those notions."

"What notions? She's a strong young lady and she can be whatever she wants to be."

Eliza grinned and made a grimacing pose at him. Thomas bellowed a hearty laugh at her.

"Who's going to stop a warrior like that I tell you?"

"Well, the mighty Amazon can feed those hens out back and bring in the eggs."

Lucinda went back and flustered at the table, chopping up potatoes. She swung the cast iron pot out from the fire and checked her stew; tossing in the vegetables. Eliza set the jaguar figure in the window sill, gave her father a hug and hurried outside.

Dinner was rather boisterous as Thomas and John both regaled of their voyage to the new world. Thomas talked of the warm blue water and white sands and crystal skies but also violent hurricanes, while John went on about stories he'd heard of dreadful pirates plundering unarmed cargo ships.

"Surely, Thomas... you can't take such a journey again, "Lucinda fretted. "Between the storms and murderous thieves, it's by the grace of God your small ship made it back."

"My darling dearest," he said with the wink, "You son does romanticize...but I don't think I'll be going back any time soon. I can't bear the thought of being away for so long. By next time I'd return, Eliza here will be another foot taller."

"As tall as John?" Eliza asked with smile.

"My girl, if you've got any of me in you... you're head will hit that doorframe..."

He laughed and took a drink.

"Besides..." John injected, "There's still plenty of work here... and I'll be taking over the Manchester Lady."

Lucinda glanced at him, then Thomas.

"Heavens!" Eliza said, "My big brother a ship captain?"

"Well, why not? He's earned it! I've taught both of you enough about ships and sailing..."

"I could helm for you!" Eliza announced. She pretended to work a helm's wheel. "Hard a' larboard!"

"You can't reach the wheel yet..."

There came a knock at the door. They were startled, but Thomas nodded - as though he expected it.

"Just a moment, my dears.

He got up from the table and stepped to the door. Eliza tried to watch, but her father only opened the door a crack. Outside in the lamp-lit street was a tall, stern man with a black hat and jacket. Thomas and he whispered, then her father nodded and stepped outside.

"I will be right back." He shut the door, but before it closed, Eliza heard him say, "I told you, Mr. Mercer... I would come by tomorrow..."
Great start of the story! Started from the childhood! And great character building for every character, especially Eliza!
Chapter Two

Not long after, he returned. His gaze seemed a bit distant, but seeing his family - the big grin returned. Eliza peeked out the window as the tall, dark man and two compatriots walked away. That evening, after a final drink by the fire, Thomas tucked Eliza into her bed.

"Tell me another Greek story... an Amazon story," she asked.

"You'd rather not hear a pirate tale?" He scratched his beard a moment. "Ah... I have it. Cyrene."


"Aye. She were an Amazon, but people said she were also a pirate.”

"Oooh? Tell me!"

He sat on the edge of the bed next to her in the silent house and put down his tankard. Thomas pondered.

"This girl Cyrene were a true warrior. An expert with a sword and spear alike. Once to frighten away an invader, she wrestled a wild lion right before their eyes."

"A lion?"

"You bet, lass. But, she and people of her village loved the sea. They would go out find their fortunes. And so they did... so well that some thought they must be pirates."

"Why?" she blinked.

"Being a sailor is a rough life, my girl. And to be prosperous takes a lot of work. So, if you be prosperous and others are not - they may think you didn't earn it. But, rather stole your fortune."

"Are we… prosperous, father?"

He chuckled and looked around the modest house.

"In many ways, no my dear." he said, putting his large arm around her. "But, in other ways..."

He continued his tale, mixing myth with their imagination of the beautiful, strong Cyrene sailing her ship across the ancient seas and fighting Greek pirates - with her gleaming bronze sword. As Cyrene went to live happily ever after, Eliza rubbed her eyes.

"You think I will sail with you? Like John?"

"It's late. You're mother will have plenty of things for you to do in the morn," he said as he stood.

Thomas paused, long enough to kiss Eliza on the forehead. He took the carved figurine he'd given her and placed it on the shelf over her small bed.

"You'll sail with me, won't you?"

"Aye, my girl - of course," he smiled and blew out the lantern. The dreams of childhood came, and went.

Eliza awoke to the sun peering into her window. The house was quiet, but it was most days when her father and John were at sea. Since she's outgrown her child's bed several years ago, she'd inherited John's room. Yawning, she rose and tilted her head through the lower doorway and made her way downstairs - still in her nightshirt.

Her mother was already up, rolling out scones on the table. The room was warm from the renewed fire. Sleepily, she watched Lucinda working diligently for their breakfast, noticing a few new streaks of gray in her dark hair.

"You should let me..."

She reached out for the rolling pin, but her mother would have none of it. Lucinda shook her head, but smiled.

"Grab the pan... put some lard in it if you want to help. But, ye father's due today and I like to have things waiting for him."

Mother and daughter worked in silence, baking breads and chopping seasonings for the evening's meal.

"You need to go," Lucinda finally said. "Mr. Aikens will be opening soon."

She looked up at her daughter; her features, long golden hair and bright eyes. Her little girl had grown up, but she was still very much the precocious tomboy who would swim in the ponds, scuffle with boys and yen for far off adventure.

"How is his son... Stanley? I heard he walked you home."

Eliza rolled her eyes as she went to the stairs.

"Mother... don't be in such a rush to marry me off. He was being a gentleman... nothing more."

Descending some time later, Eliza was wearing her modest dark dress with her hair tied back. The kitchen smelled of scones and several were laid out for her on a small cloth. She wrapped them in the cloth and tucked it into the pocket of her apron. Stepping into her shoes, she gave her mother a hug and headed into town.

Aiken's Emporium was already bustling with carts unloading merchandise and the early risers pawing over the newly arrived vegetables. Aiken's himself was already bustling for another day of trade. He was a fastidious little man with his leather bound account book.

Aiken looked over his spectacles at Eliza as she strolled past the crates from all over the realm.

There were teas from India, sugar from the Americas, rum from Jamaica - most of them bearing the large East India symbol. She would have much more preferred to see those crates coming from the hold of her father's ships. But, with only he and John's ships at sea - it was not a common site anymore.

"So good of you to join us, Ms. Creststeel."

"I'm actually early, sir..." she said, taking out a scone from her pocket. He shook his head with a sigh.

"Good business is on it's own schedule," he replied, "The pewter shipment is here, so I will be detained. Tend to the customers... get the produce stocked."

The day went quickly, with a steady flow of people around her. Farmers and craftsmen were bringing goods, townsfolk were shopping and asking questions, and she would occasionally see Stanley watching her. He was just shy of being her height and dressed well. His brown hair had not thinned yet, like his father's. To any other local girl, he would be a nice catch.

"Have you plans for lunch?" he asked.

"I plan to eat as I work," she said. "Your father has quite the chores for me."

"We could take a few things and eat by the dock. Someone told me you like the ocean."

At midday, Stanley came back with a small basket and escorted her to the wharf. She passed by some familiar faces. Some of the sailing men who had been amused by her as a playful girl now leered at her as a strapping young woman. Stanley seems a bit out of place, so his determination to bring her made Eliza smile.

They set some bread, dried meat and cheese on a dock pylon and watched the ships as they ate. Stanley wasn't sure what to say, but Eliza would point out ships she knew and talk of where all they'd been and who crewed them. But, something caught her eye. The Manchester Lady was home and docked.

"John?" she said aloud. "Come... you can meet my brother."

She led him down the pier, but as they grew closer she knew something was wrong. Several men in black coats and hats stood at the gangplank. A tall, stern man that she had a faint recollection of, was talking to John. He was holding a writ. Her brother was clearly agitated. He turned go back aboard. But, suddenly two of the men grabbed him.

Unthinking Eliza broke into a run. Startled, Stanley dashed to keep up.

"Eliza, wait!"

But, she had already hiked up her dress and hurried down the pier.

"Ye have no right here, Mercer!" John shouted.

Eliza collided with one of the men at full speed, ramming into him with her shoulder. He was sent sprawling to the deck. John struck the other man in the jaw with his freed hand. His sister moved to his side; her hands were raised like a prize fighter.

"What are you doing here, little sister?"

"Apparently, evening the odds," she said with grin.

The two well-dressed thugs staggered to their feet and were joined by their two compatriots. Mercer stepped behind them.

"As I said," John repeated. "You have no right."

"The company has every right." Mercer stated coldly. "This vessel was collateral for your father's loans. Payment is past due. By the contract your father signed, the company retains the collateral unless the balance is paid."

"And how am I to pay the balance when so many of our customers are now under contract with East India?!?"

"That is not our concern," Mercer replied. "Your crew has until sundown to remove personal property and vacate."

"Vacate?!?" Eliza cried, "Some of these men have crewed this ship for years. They are loyal sailors."

"Whose services are no longer required."

She gritted her teeth and glared at him. Finally, John relented. He put a hand on her shoulder.

"He's right. The law is on their side."

"Only because they buy and sell it," Eliza sighed. She lowered her hands and put an arm around John.

"We will be back to take possession." He nodded at them, then Stanley. "Mr. Aiken. Say hello to your father for me."

Stanley was silent. Mercer nodded and directed his men to leave.

Eliza struggled to finish her day, but her mind was fixated. The Manchester Lady was gone. She and John had countless adventures on her old deck as they would run about with wooden swords fending off brigands and monsters in their imagination. She learned that ship from one end to the other and was still visibly upset about the confrontation. The whole incident had unsettled Stanley and he didn't speak to her the rest of the day.

She opened the door to the house to find only a few candles burning. Lucinda sat in the rocker by the hearth, gazing into the embers.

"Mother? Where is everyone?" Eliza asked as she struck a match.

She started a lantern, then stoked the dwindling fire. Her mother looked up at her. Eliza kneel down beside her. She could tell Lucinda had been crying.

"Tavern," she said quietly. "John came in here. He said we lost the Lady to the East India company and he ran out. Ye father came home before supper time. He wouldn't speak to me. I could see he were ashamed. Said he'd be back, but that were hours ago."

Eliza patted her mother's hand and gave her a hug.

"I'll bring them home."

The Maiden Head tavern was a boisterous brew house on the wharf and Eliza knew it well. Too often, her father had slipped down here over the years with her in tow. He would plop her on the bar or hold her in his lap while the room full of sailors would cavort, share stories and drink their cares away. Thomas was at his favorite table. The number of empty bottles in front of him told enough. John was seated beside him, laying asleep on his folded arms. He hadn't yet his father's stamina for drink. Eliza made her way to him, avoiding dart throwers, serving wenches and a quick twirl with a dancing drunkard. Thomas guzzled from his mug.

"Maggie! Get your lovely self here and fetch me another!"

Eliza took a seat. At first Thomas wasn't sure who she was, until his blurry eyes focused.

"Go home girl! Men need to be men here!"

"Mother's worried sick," she said. "You can drink at home."

"Home..." he scoffed. "The sea were my home, girl. And your brother's. And now... Now, it's back to ferrying livestock across the channel."

"Ale!!" He shouted and lolled his head, spying for a serving girl.

A stout brunette girl came by the table with a fresh mug. Eliza put up her hand and waved her away. Thomas grumbled as the girl departed and started to stand.

"Are ye gettin' between me and my spirits, little miss?"

He was an imposing man at his full height; looking down at her - even as tall as Eliza was. She could never imagine him striking her, but she had never seen him so drunk. He put his large hand on her shoulder, and she could feel the weight of his arm as he staggered from behind his chair.

"Tempted to put you over my knee, in front a' these people!"

"Father... please."

But, just then his sudden standing caused him to grow dizzy and he began to list. Eliza leaned into him, but he was turning dead weight.

"John!" she called.

Her brother stirred and in a few moments, they were aiding their father along the walk toward home. After some time in the cool night air, her father was able help himself, but they still aided him from swaying.

"I wanted the best things for you two. John to have his own ship... and you my lovely girl to have anything you wanted. But, I got careless and made loans to keep us going. Men like Mercer and Beckett just see folks like me for how much we're worth on paper."

He lamented his failure the whole way home. Returning, he and their mother held each other a moment, then the three of them aided Thomas to his bed. He looked up at them.

"If I can't be at sea... I have nothing to live for."

"Tom," Lucinda said sharply, "Don't speak like that."

Eliza watched from the doorway as her mother whispered softly to her father. He quietly nodded as she tucked him into bed. After a moment, he was fast asleep - the spirits having done there way. Lucinda looked at him one last time, then walked out.

"Come with me," she said. Eliza nodded and followed her back to the small den.

Lucinda sat back in her seat and bid Eliza to sit close. The young girl took a moment to remove her work apron and untie her hair before taking a seat.

"Elizabeth... dear. Ye father's been through a lot. He wanted so much for you and John, but we back where we started. One small ship and only your brother able to run the business."

"Mother," Eliza interjected, "I know the business as..."

"And no man would take you serious, girl. But, something else I want you to think about," her mother tried to smile, but was failing. "Stanley Aiken."


"His family is very successful. He's a handsome, young man with a future. And I've seen the way he looks at you."

"He is... sweet, mother," Eliza nodded. "And I know he has feelings for me... but..."

"But?" her mother's eyes flared and the tone in her voice darkened, "My dear... this isn't just about you anymore. The Aikens can give your father's company a chance to survive. You need to think about that."

Eliza nodded silently, like a scolded child. Her head was spinning and she was completely drained as she slipped out of her shoes and padded up the stairs to her bed. Sleep was no respite from her swirling thoughts. By the first light, she wasn't sure she'd even slept. In a fatigued daze, she dressed and grabbed some fruit for her walk to the market.


She wearily turned to see Stanley, well-groomed and dressed as always. His smile was welcoming, but she could still tell something was agitating him. He glanced about, as though looking for someone.

"Good morning, Mr. Aiken," she said. She wasn't sure if she was smiling very brightly.

"Eliza, I'm glad I found you." he said, "I needed to speak with you..."

"You've always been so kind," she said, unsure where this was heading. She had thought briefly, maybe she could make a life with a man like him. But, could he with a young woman who was in love with sea and wanted so much to command a vessel as much as command her own life.

"There's a problem," Stanley said. It snapped her awake.

Behind them, his father was approaching at a quick pace.

"Ms. Creststeel... my office."

There was little if any discussion; to the point she wasn't sure why he'd called her in the office at all. She was dismissed. No reason given. But, Eliza didn't fight it. It seemed fitting. As she departed, she could hear the other clerks muttering. Then, at the market entranceway, she turned back and saw Mr. Aiken speaking with a man in a black coat and hat. It was the man her brother and father called Mercer. He nodded at Aiken, then glanced at her. His gaze was empty, no emotion. He turned and disappeared into the crowd.

Eliza couldn't bring herself to go straight home, not to tell her mother she was out of work. She visited several shops along the way, but even the proprietors she knew were not in need. Finally, she stepped in her father's favorite tavern. Maggie the serving girl put in a word for her and Eliza was told she could start the next night. At least it would be money, but everything felt so backwards.

As she approached her door, Stanley was waiting for her.

"I was hoping to catch you, but..."

She nodded silently.

"I'm terribly sorry. After that... incident, some men from East India inquired about you. When my father discovered you were in a brawl with some of their agents, he felt he had no choice."

"He had a choice," Eliza stated. Her voice was firm, a bit louder than she'd expected.

"You don't fight East India. Most of my father's goods come from them... they control the harbor... and the trade routes... I'm sorry."

"Don't be," she said.

He took her hand.

"I'm sure my father would not approve of me consorting with someone who brawls in the street, but Eliza... you are a woman of courage and conviction... not just beauty."

She blushed, unsure what to say.

"Would you ever consider marriage?"

"Are you proposing it?

Stanley blinked, then he actually blushed.

"Well... not at the moment. I..."

"Oh," she nodded.

"I just asked if you'd consider it."

"Consider it? Yes, I will. And Stanley, sometimes a person needs to fight for what is right, even if its... unseemly."

She turned and went into the house. Her mother was quickly making herself busy in the kitchen.

"Oh, home already?"

"Yes Mother. The curtain is still moving from where you were peeking out of it."

"Just heard voices," Lucinda said. "Took your hand did he?"

"I'm supposed to be... considering it."
Chapter Three

Thomas continued to take what cargo he could charter, mostly small shipments that could be taken across the channel in a single day or south to Portugal or Spain. The next weeks dragged and Eliza made the best of it as a serving girl in the Maiden Head. She was trying to get used to the cat calls, the gropes and bawdy talk. Maybe the other two barmaids were numbed to it. Until one evening...

"There's Captain Eliza," one old salt slurred as he slung another drink from his mug. The compatriots at his table laughed. "Captain! Come here Captain! I remember this one from when she were knee high!"

She set down the next round of drinks in front of the men. Several leered at her, especially since Maggie told her to start wearing something that revealed her shoulders.

"Well, I'm no longer knee high, Captain Filch," she said.

"Definitely not," the pot-bellied salt chuckled and patted her rump. "Aye. This lil' girl could climb rigging and haul line from since she was a pup. Tell yore ol' man to come down to drink with us! After all, he's just crusty old dog like the rest of us now."

Eliza looked at his hand, still resting on her thigh. She gritted her teeth.

"My father is a better sailor... and better man than all the sods in this room."

The younger men snickered, and looked to their older companion. He scratched his graying beard with a smirk.

"Ooooh, is he? Well, he certainly didn't fare well in teaching his children proper respect - did he? Now, bring us something better than this swill!"

Eliza tromped to the bar, where Maggie was filling mugs. The Irish girl was a head shorter, but had no issue filling her arms with heavy tankards.

"You want me to deal with Filch? He got no right talking at you like that."

Shaking her head, Eliza grabbed up several mugs of dark ale. She made her rounds, leaving several at Filch's table - holding her resolve for his next comment. It didn't come... until she stepped away.

"So, tell me... Captain. Will you and your brother inherit the family fortune? How do you plan to split one old scow?"

She stopped dead in her tracks, turned and walked back to him. Filch had a mischievous grin as he looked up. Eliza's eyes turned cold. She picked up the full ale mug. A collective 'ooooh' went up from around the table, as the men expected her to pour it on him.

"Okay, missy. Maybe that was a little..."

Eliza cocked her arm and bashed the burly man in the nose with the mug. Ale sloshed everywhere as his head snapped back. The room went silent. Filch shook his head, trying to make the bells stop as blood began to run from a nostril.

"Oh girl..." he grunted as he stood up, "You done made a big mistake."

He moved quick for a large man and managed to grab her by the hair, then slapped her with the back of his free hand. She yelped and grabbed his hand, prying his thumb away and slipping from his grasp. His next swing was a closed fist, but he was too laden with ale. She bashed him again in the head with the pewter mug, denting it. She followed it with a full swing of her right fist - nearly sending him sprawling.

Another sailor started to get up, but Eliza put up a boot and shoved him back in his seat.

Filch staggered back against the wall, fumbling into his belt for something. A blunderbuss BOOMED. Red, the bartender held the smoking weapon aloft.

"That's ENOUGH of that!"

The front doorknob lowly creaked as Eliza turned it and stepped into the darkened house. It was somewhat chilly, but a few embers still burned in the hearth. Quietly, she hung her wrap on a nail and untied her apron. Something shifted in the pitch black, startling her.

"Thought only the devil himself still stirred at this hour," the hoarse voice said quietly. Her father struck a match, illuminating his weather-hardened face as he put the flame to his pipe. In the flickering light, he seemed older and the sparkle in his eyes looked dimmed. "Sit, girl."

She nodded and pulled up a chair beside his next to the dying fire. He held out a flask. She paused before taking it.

"A little protection from the night air," he said.

Eliza took a pull from the flask and let the rum ease down. Her father gave a half-grin, maybe he was expecting her to cough at the taste or maybe he was admiring that she didn't.

"Weren't expecting you tonight," she said. Her voice seemed loud in the stillness of the quiet house. He nodded and took back the rum.

"Oh? Out gallivanting were ye? Caught a fishing boat coming this way. I let John helm the return trip once our's was loaded."

"You didn't stay?"

He shook his head, took a drink and stared at the fading embers.

"My girl, you and your brother are all growed up now and time will come when I'm not here and John will be needing you."

"John does fine on his own and mother..."

Thomas choked a laugh.

"Your dear mother wants you to marry above your station, get us out of my debts."

She nodded. He turned in the chair to look at her. Even in the near darkness, she could tell he was smiling. He took a puff on the pipe and leaned towards her. She could smell the rum on him.

"It would make it easier, if you and that boy from the market got hitched. But, I would never ask that of you. Would be like having a racing horse pull a hay wagon. You got a fire in you girl, don't waste it."

"What about you and mother?"

He took another drink.

"I met your mum, she was nary the lady of house she likes to seem. Look at me girl. You think I could marry a woman if she weren't as fierce as me? I was just a sea hand and she worked at a boarding house for sailors. She had to fend them vultures off every day while she fed them and kept the place. I had to work to catch her eye, but even then we both knew we wanted more. So, we went without a long time - make sure we'd have a good house for your brother and then you."

Eliza listened as her father told her of their early times together. The light in his eyes seemed to brighten with each memory.

"Whatever happens to me, my girl... promise me that you will live the life you want, not what you think others want. That's what we worked for."

"Happens?" she pondered, "What's going on? You didn't come home early for John's sake."

He lit another match, refreshing his pipe. Thomas paused and looked at her. He touched her cheek.

"Get into a scrap?" he asked, "I'm guessing the other party is worse for wear, isn't she?"

"HE," Eliza corrected. "It were Filch. His crew were in the tavern tonight."

Thomas snickered.

"That's my Amazon," he said. “Loud mouth lout probably had it coming.”

"Why did you come home early?"

"Never you mind. Get on to bed now, I will be joining your mother soon enough."

Eliza nodded. She stood, leaned down to hug him then borrowed the flask for one last drink. After kissing his cheek, she pointed a finger at him.

"I'd better not find you asleep in this chair in the morn."

"No ma'am!" Thomas said, and saluted.

Eliza awoke with a start. Someone was pounding on their front door. She sprang from the bed and tried to orient as she went down the narrow stairs. Her mother was already opening the door. She had put a wrap over her gown around her shoulders. Three soldiers in full uniform stood in the street before them.

"Thomas Creststeel?"

As Eliza padded across the old wood floor, she glanced to the hearth. Her father had indeed fallen fast asleep in his chair by the fire.

"What do you want?" Lucinda demanded, a bit of panic in her voice.

Thomas stirred at the commotion. The soldiers pushed their way in, past Lucinda.

"We have a warrant for his arrest. Unpaid debts."

"What's all this?" Thomas slurred as he roused. One of the young men clamped a manacle to his wrist. The old sailor pulled his arm back on reflex, nearly toppling the slender man. Thomas stood, towering over the redcoats.

"Thomas Creststeel, you are under arrest for outstanding debts and are remanded to Fleet Prison in London until such time as your bankruptcy has been repaid."

He glowered at the gathering, fiercely enough that one soldier held the butt of his rifle up - ready to strike.

"This is preposterous!"

"Sir, we don't want trouble. Either we escort you... or carry you."

Thomas nodded and placed his wrists together. His other wrist was manacled. Eliza pushed past the men and wrapped her arms around her father.

"They can't do this! I won't let them!"

He looked down at her. Tears were already starting to stream as she buried her face in his chest.

"That's not my girl... be strong Eliza. This is a trifle. I promise you."

"You knew," she said softly. "You knew this was coming."

Thomas didn't answer, but just grinned sadly. She nodded at him as the men began to walk him to the door. He stopped at Lucinda, leaning down to her. She kissed her husband and hugged him until the men pulled him away. Lucinda didn't speak. She simply watched them go, then sank solemnly into his chair. Eliza knelt on the floor beside her mother and laid her head in Lucinda's lap, her face covered by her long tresses. Her mother managed to keep her tears, but Eliza openly wept - her sadness turning more into rage.

John Creststeel came home in a state of shock. Word had come to him when he ported of his father taken away in irons only a few days ago. He quickly made his way to the house and found his mother sitting near the hearth. She had a bowl of carrots in her lap, but she had stopped midway through peeling and merely stared at the wall.

"John?" she said softly. He came to her and nodded.

"I heard. Is he?"

She nodded and sighed. John didn't reply, but he put an arm around her. As they sat quiet, the door opened and Eliza entered. She made a beeline for the stairs and quickly went up to her room.


John followed her up and stepped to the doorway of her small room. She was taking things from her shelves and stuffing them into on of their fathers bags. His presence startled her for a second.

"You're leaving?"

She paused and looked up at him.

"Father's in debtor's prison, John."

"I know. That's why I was comforting mother."

Eliza went back to packing.

"Mother doesn't have anything, but this house," she said.

"We're running his business..."

She didn't look at him as she finished.

"No, John. You are. Remember? No one wishes to work with a woman. Especially one who isn't married and gets into brawls with the authorities and drunkards."

"So, what are you to do? Leave us too?"

Eliza took down one of her father's hats. She quickly tied her hair up and put it on.

"I will make my own way. Mother can live with Aunt Catherine and sell the house or you could take your room back. But, I need to make my own way and stop being a burden."

She headed for the door. He put a hand on her shoulder. Eliza glanced at it.

"Don't try to stop me," she warned.

"Wouldn't think of it," he said. He pulled her to him and hugged her. "Where will you go?"

"I was thinking the colonies. East India here has poisoned the well against us. I'd always wanted to see them since hearing about the new world from you and father. I can travel steerage, find work. Once set, I can send money home and we can pay father's debt."

John thought a moment.

"Let me help you with your travel arrangement."

She nodded.

"Now, the hard part. Saying goodbye to our mother."

That evening, after a long and tearful goodbye, Eliza and John reached the end of a pier. A sturdy cargo ship was moored and a handful of men were just finished loading the last of the rations and carrying them below. Her duffle over her shoulder, Eliza made efforts to tuck away her hair and she wore one of her father's coats. The long leather jacket nearly swallowed her up. They reached the gangplank.

"I worked it out with the captain. You'll be able to work below decks most of the time... galley crew or cook's mate."

"John, I'm not much of a cook," she said, glancing at the vessel of her near future.

"Beggars cannot be choosers and besides it's a paying job."

They briefly hugged, knowing that any ruse needed to be keep. A shadow appeared at the railing.

"Captain! If you please, this is the sailor I mentioned, "John called up. The figure descended.

"This is as much favor to you, John as it is to me. I was a bit short-handed," a familiar voice said.

At the bottom of the plank, the large man stepped into the light. Captain Filch looked at Eliza and his eyes went cold. He pointed at John.

"You said nothing of this."

"Sshhh! Please, Filch. It's important to me and my family."

Eliza glared at the man. He still had a small knot on his forehead from the pewter mug she'd hit him with.

"Females aboard is bad luck. This girl in particular," Filch growled. "Shoulda' gutted ya' in the Maiden Head…"

"Are you wanting more a' the same bilge rat?" Eliza growled. She let her duffle bag drop to the dock.

"Stop it," John glowered. "Simple enough. You need a cook's boy. She needs travel. I know you and my father have had words before, but East India has made it hard on all of us. And you know she's a good hand - female or not."

Filch nodded.

"I heard about your old man going to prison. Wrong is wrong. He didn't deserve that. You forgive me for me harsh tongue... and I'll forgive ya' for hittin' me."

He put out his hand. Eliza still stared at him.

"Eliza?" John said, "The man is capitulating. What say you?"

"Agreed. Forgive me for striking you... and I forgive your bullheaded ignorance."

The big man croaked a laugh as she took his massive, coarse hand.

"Welcome aboard then, cook's boy. Get your bag stowed in the galley and get to work."
Chapter 4

Dearest Mother,

It was quite the sight to see England disappear on the horizon and have nothing but the cold black Atlantic surrounding us. Never have I felt so alone, but also I have never felt so independent. Filch may be an butt, but his ship is strong and his men are well seasoned.

Once we reach a port, I will post this letter along with some of the money I receive for being a cook. Time spent helping you make our suppers has been invaluable and I found I know more than I thought about preparing meals.

Filch has been good to his word so far, keeping my presence virtually a secret but he's also creative with the extra details he makes me perform. I guess he's still not over that bump I put on his head. I hope John is doing well and I could never stop apologizing for leaving you and father, but getting the money he needs right now is far more important.

One week out...

The air has a definite chill now and the spray from the bow stings one's face and arms. Still, as much as this is just grinding work for the men on this ship, I wake each morning with renewed energy. But, it's not been too easy timing my visits to the deck to relieve myself or catch a quick nap in the galley.

This week something magical happened. I've never understood before my father's true heart until now. From morning bell to the last light, this ship is very much alive. I'd never heard men sing with such conviction. Perhaps in port, they are afraid to fully voice themselves around others - even in church.

But, out here their voices carry over the waves with strength of heart. I don't dare join their song of work, however. Even far down in my galley, I am sure my tones would give away my true identity. Someday, women's voices will openly mingle on these decks. What a joyous sound that will be.

Two weeks out…

The work helps the time pass, but leaves my body worn when I climb into my hammock after hours. Being below so much, I often lose track of the time and the days have started to blur together. The stories never say of the doldrums or repetitive work we do. My experience is likely not commonplace as I can’t really interact without fear of discovery, though I think a couple suspect why I rarely appear on deck or hide my face.

I do hear them talk. They speak of loved ones, far away places, fights they’ve been in, rum they’ve drank… women they’ve loved. You wouldn’t approve of their language I’m sure, mother.

But, I love to hear it – their honesty. Men are rarely completely honest with women, out of fear of rejection or appearing ill-mannered. Here they can be ill-mannered and as honest as their ego will allow. I’m sure they spin quite the yarn, but many would I never hear as a woman among men.

Three weeks out…

I definitely have my sea legs now, having to move about without the waves causing me to topple or lose a tray of precious food to the deck. In fact, that nearly cost me my secret. A sharp roll caused me to spill a ladle of soup on Pierce, a bosun’s mate as I attempted to pour it. He took great offense and the hot stew on his bare arm didn’t help the situation.

He grabbed hold of me and yelled. I took hold of him and stood fast. I thought it would end with us brawling. And I’m sure had we scuffled on the floor he would have known me for a woman, whether I would best him or not. Instead, Captain Filch stepped in and told the man to take his grub and be happy with it.

One Month at sea…

Dearest Mother,

After stopping in St. John’s Newfoundland, we’re bound for Caribbean with stops at the colonies. I hope the money I managed to gather finds you. The air and water are growing warmer. And while the sunshine is pleasant, the rising temperatures are making it hard for me to stay covered up and below so much. I miss you all terribly and fear for father’s health in prison.

Five Weeks out…

My secret was discovered. It was a careless slip. I knew some of the men were suspicious of me, but I still let down my guard. We were off the coast of the Carolinas when a gale came up and ship began to take on water from a series of waves. Filch was unable to turn us into them and they were rolling over the decks. The alarm went out for all hands to help secure the masts and get the sails taut so we could turn. Unthinking, I followed the men up to the deck.

With the rain and wind, we were pitching fiercely. I’m surprised no one was washed overboard. As I reached the hatch, a gust toppled several men and the line they were trying to secure slipped loose and the sail began to luff. I grabbed the line, wrapped it behind myself and held it taut until they could regain their footing.

But, the drenching rain had soaked my clothes and plastered them to my form. I returned below, but the cat was out of the bag. Their cook’s boy was a woman. Many of the men were infuriated. I feared for what they would do. One tried to strike me, but I fought back only to be held by several others for the captain’s judgment. Filch had to act as though he was ignorant of the situation or face a mutiny.

I was made to sleep in the hold and given rations until we reached the Carolinas where I was let off. Filch secretly gave me the pay he promised but to complete his ruse he struck me to the deck afterwards and escorted me down the gangplank to the dock.

Enclosed is my pay. I’m not sure when I will be able to write again.

Eliza returned late to her rented room in the Jacobson boarding house. She slung off her apron and flopped onto the small bed, still fully dressed. She was back to serving sailors in a tavern. Thousands of miles from home and her life was moving backwards. She had few acquaintances, beyond regular customers or the other serving girls she competed with for tips. Occasionally, she would inquire to a ship's captain or crewman about work for a 'friend' who was an experienced ship's cook and deck hand. But, there'd been no offers. Between East India, Raleigh and the Brown company, few independents had need of new sailors. It made her hate East India all the more.

Then, one morning - a letter arrived at the boarding house. She quickly took it up to her room and tore it open. Eliza could swear it smelled of her mother's stew.


We received your letter and I thank the Lord that you're alive and well. The colonies may be more civilized than the Caribbean islands, but its still a frontier and lawless men find haven there. I know John has not written to you, but do not fret. He tells me that he misses you and wishes you well.

I do not know how else to tell you this, so I will simply say it. Your father has passed away.

The money we had gathered was still not enough for his release from Fleet Prison and I had prayed that we would be able to next month, but he fell ill and contracted a sickness. They say that it consumed him quickly, but I believe that he had just given up. It broke his heart that our family has had such troubling times. I used the money you sent to buy him a proper headstone in the Seaman's Cementary. I am so sorry.

East India is still laying claim to the outstanding balance, but I am selling my baked goods and your brother may soon take on another ship again. I know he wants get the Manchester Lady back as a matter of pride, but all in due time.

Stay safe and strong my child... Love Mother.

Eliza was numb. She didn't remember walking to the tavern and barely her argument with the keep over serving a woman after hours. But, there she sat. Another tankard of ale had come and gone. Money that she'd held for her next letter was being tossed onto the table for round after round. Her father was gone. She never got to see him... say anything...

"East India bastards," she heard next to her. "Should be strung up the way they treat a man like a dog."

Several young men were hunched at the next table, grumbling into their drinks.

"East India bastards..." she said aloud before taking a long drink. One of them looked up and lifted his mug to her.

"Strong words, woman."

"Aye, are they? Strong hatred," she said. "Those blaggards took everything from me."

"You too?" another man said. "They need to pay."

"Aye!" said the first, "And we were just making our plans to do so."

Perhaps it was the ale; perhaps the rage, but Eliza stood and carefully stepped to their table and plopped onto a chair.

"If it's to hurt them, I want in."

The group's leader was named Rand. He wouldn't give her his first. They told Eliza that the four of them were also victims of company greed. They had all been lured into service for East India, promised good pay and regular jobs. Each man left behind loved ones and their life in Europe behind. They worked long days loading ships and sailed to the New World. But, beyond their room and board, pay was not forthcoming. Once their ship was in Charleston harbor, they were let out of their contracts.

Now, each of them was stranded, no money to get home and few ships even taking men to work steerage. The four of them had stuck together though, sharing a room in a loft and bringing home what food or money they got. Rand, himself was not much older than she, and the only one who had any education.

"A lot of good it did me. I never read the fine print on that contract. I only saw the coins."

He introduced her to the others and she told them of her family's experiences with East India and the man named Mercer who oversaw the taking of their ships and her job.

"Sounds like a right bastard, for certain."

"What are your intentions?" Eliza asked quietly.

"Simple enough," Rand said. "There is a ship in the harbor, just now being loaded for its journey to the islands. Before the sun rises, we will set upon the few guards, steal aboard and then take the whole bloody ship."


"Call it what ye will, woman. It's our ticket home."

Eliza mulled it over, but she knew full well that piracy was met with swift and lethal justice - if not by the sword or musket at sea, then surely the noose on land.

"I've lived an honest life, Mr. Rand."

"Then maybe," he sneered, "You should go on living it. I have lived honestly and look where I am. Stranded across the seas, drinking my sorrow with some feckless woman."

Eliza glared at him.

"You best belay the tone with me. I too came across these waters due to East India and then by the ignorance of arrogant men, I was cast off here. They had no mind that I could do their work, until they knew I was not a man. There were more than a dozen of them, so I didn't fight back. But, you insult me again, and this time I will."

He glanced down and noticed that her right thumb was hooked under her dagger hilt and that her left fist was balled up, out of sight of his compatriots. Her gaze was steely and unwavering, even with the rum in her. He nodded.

"So, honest woman..."

"Eliza," she said flatly.

"Ms. Eliza. You intend on staying honest? Or, are you with us?"

Charleston Harbor lay quiet in the dead of the night. A few lone lanterns strung along the wharf lit the docks for the handful of brave souls still up so well into the night. Eliza and Rand made their way along past the merchant vessels. At the end, a small cargo ship shifted in the wave swells. A lone member of the Black Guard stood at the bottom of the gangplank. Rand signaled behind him and his men moved into the shadows, out of sight. Eliza eyed the sentry.

"We can take him," she muttered.

"Ya, but we need it done quick and quiet," Rand said. "You should be a diversion."

"Just a diversion?"

Rand shrugged.

"I doubt I could fill a corset to your extent that would gain his attention."

She glowered at him, but then nodded. Eliza adjusted herself and removed her blouse, revealing the laced corset underneath. She handed the shirt and her dagger to him before stepping into the light of the dock lanterns. Quietly, Eliza sauntered up the dock to the guard. She had his eyes very quickly. He watched her walk past, stopping to look over her shoulder at him.

"Evening, miss." he said timidly.

"Good night." a voice said as a blackjack thwacked him on the back of the head.

Quickly, the small band of pirates ascended the plank. One of Rand's men lashed the guard to a lamp post, tilting his hat down to feigning sleep. In a matter of moments, they were clearing the mooring lines. The other two men went below and came back with three sleepy prisoners, who were escorted off. The last pirate held a musket on them as he stepped back onto the ship's deck.

"Nary a peep from ye lads, or ye die where ye stand."

Rand took the wheel and soon the small craft was pulling away from the wharf. He turned for open water as Eliza helped get to the business of dropping the sails and securing the masts. She felt truly at home on the deck and the young men admired her efforts as she hauled lines and climbed the riggings. Her heart was racing. Was it the danger of being caught or the sensation that she was finally accepted as a sailor, no matter if not a man?

"On course for Jamaica lads! And then, home!" Rand shouted to a rousing cheer.
Agreed, epic is the word. It should have been published by now or ready to be. I'd buy it. You are a professional caliber writer, Eliza (or you are already one and we just didn't know it). EXCELLENT!
Chapter 5

"What fools we were," Eliza moaned lying on a dingy cot.

It had been nearly a month since their grand adventure from Charleston. Barely three days later, an East Indiaman trading vessel had overtaken them, crippled the old cargo ship's sails, then sent a dozen men aboard to take the ship back. Two of Rand's men died in the fighting. She herself had only managed to run one Black Guard cur through before being set upon by four burly gents who clamped her in irons.

The three survivors were taken before a magistrate in Jamaica, since the ship was bound for there originally. The man, a stern-lipped white-haired Englishman named Masterson had them sentenced to prison on a little island called Rambleshack. Rumor had it the few who survived the conditions were often hung to make room for any new arrivals.

Rand had suffered a musket ball in the leg during the boarding. She heard that the wound slowly killed him two weeks after. The last man in their party succumbed to his stab wounds. Though decent food and medicine could have prevented it, Rambleshack was not known for either. Fortune had at least smiled upon her escaping injury. That did not make the branding iron any more welcome when in seared into her flesh before she was cast into the squalid cell. The smoldering P charred into her shoulder served as a nagging reminder of her rash choice and gave her grave thoughts of having any future.

The squalid cell was barely big enough for only two beds - though four prisoners were kept in it. Eliza had lost nearly all her belongings after being arrested, but managed to still keep her few clothes and the little jaguar figurine. She had to regularly fend off her cellmates attempts to have their way with her and she fought for the privilege of the cot instead of a mat on the stone floor. But, after several weeks her strength was waning.

"Fools were you?" a voice said. "How foolish is any man... a thousand pardons... any woman's inscrutable attempts to make herself an independent soul?"

The new man's voice was soothing, though she thought he sounded drunk and may have smelled like it as well. She kept her arm over her eyes, not wanting to talk to the recent arrival; though he seemed at ease with the idea of being incarcerated. He must have had some experience at it.

"I would say someone has truly no moral fiber or ethical cloth whatsoever to imprison such a lovely creature as you, love." the man said. She could feel him moving closer to her.

"Don't," she said simply.

"Rough seas I take it? Only to land in this lovely little piece of paradise on Earth."

She heard herself laugh and then decided to sit up and meet this strange man. He was an odd sort, but had a charming smile to match his voice. His eyes were bright and Eliza could tell that even with his relaxed demeanor, the wheels were turning in his head. Compared to the drab walls and her plain blouse and trousers, his attire was almost vibrant with bright stripes, a colorful sash and tall boots. Jewelry and accessories dripped off his fingers or were woven into the locks of his hair.

"You need to pull yourself together mate," he told her. "Captain Jack Sparrow, at your service."

She eyed him quietly at first and thought to give him her name, but suddenly a barrage of cannon fire erupted outside. Sparrow glanced to the window before dashing to the gate and hastily kicking the iron-gated door open.

Eliza simply stared. Was this all a dream? She knew she had pulled, pushed, shouldered and struggled with that same door when the guards had stopped making their rounds. Yet, he knew right what to do.

Padding across the stone floor, she reached the doorway but her mysterious cellmate and rescuer was long gone. As another explosion shook the building, and she realized that the few soldiers stationed to watch them had fled. She pulled the bolt and stepped out in darkness. The entire settlement was under assault. Cannon fire rained down on the small collection of buildings and the few remaining citizens were fleeing for their lives.

Blindly, running down a path, she ducked into a nearby warehouse.

“You there!”

She nearly leaped out of her skin. A handsome young man hurriedly greeted her. He claimed to be an associate of the odd Captain Sparrow and quickly gave her a weapon. It was clumsy, but sufficient. He explained that a nearby ship was waiting to help her escape. Who were these two men that go around rescuing strange women from prisons?

This young man, Will, was very direct and she felt she’d not get in a word edgewise. So she merely nodded and heeded his instructions.

At that moment, horrifying figures burst into the room and charged at her newfound ally. What she saw made her heart stop. Shambling corpses. Men long since dead and decaying were advancing on them, rusty weapons at the ready. Though Will did not look much like a fighting man, he prevented the monsters from reaching her and fenced as though born to it. Regretfully, she took his advice and fled.

Eliza was barely out of the dilapidated warehouse when more of the creatures appeared and now she sure this was nothing more than a nightmare. A nightmare from which she couldn’t escape. Fighting them off as she ran, she hacked her way to the docks, Eliza beat back the corpses as quickly as they appeared. But, more kept coming and she couldn’t awake from this wretched dream.

She bolted aboard the small sloop as the stocky little man cut the lines. Behind them, the tiny island was spotted with out of control fires burning unchecked. Maybe now, she was safe.

What happened next was a blur.

Their small ship was rapidly pursed by unearthly vessels that looked like they could have been pulled from the ocean floor. Darkened rotted hulls and shredded sails didn’t seem to hinder their attackers. The flight was useless as a vision of terror appeared on deck.
The monstrous visage of the mythical Jolly Roger grabbed the ship captain and dragged out a confession. He towered over her; a rotten corpse of a man, but very much alive. His empty eye sockets glared at her as he accused the captain of treachery. Then, the truth came out.

This beast had made a deal with the captain to deliver her cellmate, Sparrow. But, Captain Jack had instead sent her to be Beck’s passenger. He had sold her out to save his skin. She gritted her teeth.

Moments later, she was being cast overboard and the little sloop was obliterated by cannon fire.
Surely, she was doomed this day, but if she lived – Jack Sparrow would know her name, even if it was told to him from the tip of a sword. She managed to latch onto a piece of wreckage and blacked out.