I stare at my crew.
Of course, they whisper. My life is full of their endless whispers; it’s a goddamn constant presence on this ship.
I roll my eyes.
“Please relate to my crew that if I find them discussing the matter of my sex again, I will personally rip their balls from their bodies, freeze them, and use them as ice cubes to chill my next bottle of rum. Got it?”
Smithson grins. He’s always been one to stand by my side. A good lad, of course.
One of the only good ones. I scowl as I watch him skip away to chat with the rest of the crew on the ship.
My crew. My ship. I need to remember that. I won them fair and square, after all. That’s what happens when the previous captain is a maniacal gambler. And a horrible one at that.
I watch as Smithson walks through the ship, chatting casually with my crew down below. I smile as I watch their terrified faces glance up to me, one by one. Upon meeting my steely gaze they quickly turn away, busying themselves with the tasks of keeping the ship prepared for arriving at our final destination. Sweat beads upon their foreheads.
They’re not all bad, I should say. A few supported my win, and I'm grateful for them. But the majority sneered and laughed and despised me from my very introduction.
They stopped doing it to my face after––what I like to call––the First Incident. When one of them grabbed my breast, felt me up, and then laughed in my face. I still remember his hot, pungent breath as he stood over me.
He wasn’t laughing so much when he woke up to me in his bed, where I’d tied him down, gagged him, and threatened to use my dagger to saw off that same hand if he ever touched me again. He quickly agreed to my request, and I released him. None of my crew touched me after that.
He stays out of my way now. He cleans the floors. And always keeps that hand protected from my sight when I'm around.
Several followed my lead after that. It’s quite crazy how a simple act of power can gain so many followers. I decided that I would prove to the rest of them––all of them––that I was the best of the best. I would show all of them that I am their captain, through and through.
We just need to find the Trinity.
“Captain, there––look!” Smithson gestures out to sea from the deck down below.
I follow his pointed finger with my gaze, narrowing my eyes.
Excitement spreads through my limbs. We’ve found it. The Hidden Land, the island that's only been discovered by a small few. The island home to the treasure I've dedicated my life to discovering.
The crew prepares to board the island as it draws ever nearer.
I give orders as we near the land. I take a handful of men with me; some will stay behind to man the ship (the loyal ones, of course, including Smithson). He helps me aboard the small boat that will take us to the island, before bowing deeply and tending to the ship as my group and I head to shore.
The sand is black here. It matches the color of my boots as I step upon it. I smile.
“Spread out. Look in pairs of two. We’re meeting back here in an hour.”
“What are we lookin’ out for, ‘xactly, Cap’n?” One of the crewmen raises his arms in confusion.
“Honestly, I don’t know yet. Anything that indicates treasure. Symbols, words, markings––look at the rocks, the trees. Look for any paths. Caves. Stay in ear’s distance of the waves. Back in one hour. Understood?”
They all nod––a small few grumbling––and group together. Of course, none remain to pair with me. I roll my eyes and walk away from them, to the west.
I follow along the shoreline for a moment, my footsteps leaving a track for me to find in the black sand. I glance back, just once, toward the ship. It’s still there, indicating that Smithson hasn’t been murdered by a potentially mutinous crowd. Good.
I turn back and narrow my eyes. There, in the distance, the land rises, forming a rocky outcrop to––
A cave. A promising sign.
I approach the outside of the rocky dwelling, keeping my dagger close to my side, and peer around the slabs of stone to glance inside, my muscles tense.
Darkness. The black sand continues through to the back of the cave, which also disappears into blackness.
It’s dark. Too dark.
I step backward into the light and glance back at the shore. And, to my surprise, all my footsteps in the sand have disappeared.
“Shit,” I mumble.
I turn around back to the cave.
And find dark blue eyes staring right into mine.
My head explodes in pain, and everything goes black.
I open my eyes slowly.
Everything is blurry. Groggy.
“Here. Drink this.”
I look down. Slowly, a coconut filled with clear liquid comes into focus. With a slender, olive hand clasped around it.
I look up, my head pounding. To my shock, I see a tall, beautiful woman dressed in boating attire. Long blond hair is braided to her waist, and her dark blue eyes are unreadable.
“What…what is it?” I ask, looking back down to the drink suspiciously.
She rolls her eyes. “Water. What else would it be?”
I scoff. “Yeah, right.”
“Your funeral.” She shrugs, taking the coconut away and stepping backward. I look around.
We’re in the cave, a few feet from the entrance. She stands above me in the black sand; I’m sitting against the wall. I look down at myself. My hands and feet aren’t tied, which is quite shocking. Although my head still pounds.
I look back up.
“What do you want with me?”
“We want you to listen to us,” she answers immediately.
I narrow my eyes. “Us?”
As if on cue, two other women enter from the back of the cave, slowly growing into focus as the light from the opening illuminates their figures. There’s an older woman, perhaps in her sixties, with spiky gray hair and high cheekbones. The other woman is short but muscular, with tattoos lining her arms, a buzzed head, and an eyebrow ring.
“Yes. Us.” The older woman gives me a faint smile. Her warm brown eyes twinkle.
“And who are you, exactly?”
The short girl crosses her arms. “We’re the Trinity.”
I snort, but my heart thuds frantically against my chest. I shake my head sharply. “Right. The Trinity is a treasure. I would know; I've been searching for it for years. I've studied all the maps, talked to all the hunters. People aren’t even sure if it’s real, let alone a group of…what are you, exactly?” I ask, eyeing them.
The blonde girl sighs. She looks at the other two. “This one doesn’t seem trustworthy. You sure she’s the one?”
“Captain Valor, isn’t it?” the old woman says kindly.
I stare at her. “I––I––how do you know who I am?”
“Your name’s been heard all over these parts. The young girl who beat the old man at his own game and won his ship. Surely you must know your...reputation.”
I do. She’s not wrong; I’ve made a name for myself. I just didn’t know it was a name that people recognized.
Slowly, I rise to my feet, cautious. None of them react as I get up and lean against the wall of the cave. I rub my head. I shoot a glare at the blonde woman. “You really had to hit me so hard?”
She raises her hands in apology. “Sorry. I didn’t realize you were…well, you.”
“And why am I important to you? Why did you want to know who I am?”
“Because we want you to join us, dumbass,” the short girl snorts. Her voice is rough and dry. “Why do you think we’ve been spreading the rumor about the treasure? We knew you’d come find the treasure. We knew you'd find your way here. Few have. But, like Vienna said––your reputation precedes you.”
I stare at her. I open my mouth. Close it. Finally, I find the words. “I’m sorry, but I have no idea what’s going on here. Please––please, enlighten me.”
The older woman––Vienna––steps forward, while the two others step back. She walks toward me, and stops a few feet in front of me, clasping her hands in front. She stares into my eyes, measuring me. “We’re the Trinity. We work around the world to support and empower young girls to enter into the pirate industry, to provide equal opportunities. And a captain like yourself? A, what––nineteen-year-old who defeated a world-renowned gambler at his own game and won his ship? We want you. To work with us."
I gaze at her. At the hope and ferocity in her eyes. I lean against the wall. “You’ve got the wrong girl,” I say quietly, finally looking away. "I'm not...I'm not that."
From the corner of my eye, I see the blonde girl step forward. “No. You are.”
I glare at her. “And what makes you think you know me at all? At––at what I’ve been through to get here? It’s not empowering. It was hard and brutal and, frankly, disgusting. It took everything I had and then some and I’m still not accepted. I lost everything. My dignity, my family. You think I can help young girls? To believe in themselves?” I laugh bitterly. “I don’t even believe in myself.”
Vienna walks closer. I stiffen. She lays her hand gently on my shoulder, looking deeply into my eyes with utmost kindness. “You don’t think we know that, Captain?” she says gently. “We might not have fought the same battles, but we’ve fought battles all the same. We understand. But we’re fighting these battles so the women succeeding us don’t have to. We fight so that they may dance.” She smiles softly. “It’s not easy. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.”
I stare at her for a long while, looking into those gentle, kind brown eyes.
And then, finally, I nod.
"Come on. We have a lot to show you."