She was a queen, but not in the conventional way. She wasn’t born into a royal family, and she would never marry one of the many princes or princesses searching for love. Tilde was a queen of the seas. The pitiful boats the navy boasted splintered under the weight of her beloved ship Doppelganger, a sleek vessel that hid as many secrets as its captain. Tilde dealt in blackmail like a politician dealt in half-truths. She was as rich in knowledge as she was in gold, but only one of those things could fully bend a person’s will, and certain bribes worked better when she held secrets over the person’s head. One of her precious secrets was in the form of the cabin boy. Ace, she called him, was an enigma to all. Some speculated that he was her lover, others believed him to be a prisoner. While the crew changed often on the Doppelganger, Ace always stayed by her side.
“Surely he’s more than a cabin boy.” A crewmate pointed out at dinner one night. It had been an eventful day. Tilde led the charge on a few royal navy ships that had been carrying resources from the southern colonies. Dinner consisted of fresh fruits and heady wines that were meant as a gift for some duke who had recently turned a profit. Another pirate at the table leaned forward, glancing around to make sure no one was listening.
“I heard he’s some noble’s boy who ran away.” He whispered, “He and Captain Tilde have been sailing together since the beginning.”
“On the contrary, I’ve gone through plenty of cabin boys.” Tilde stood over the table with a wry grin. The pirates collectively flinched, but she merely snatched up a bottle of wine and took a long swig, “The first cabin boy was a girl, in fact. Little farm thing, quite delicate. She stowed away on this ship to try and steal some gold for her parents. Her father was sick, and they couldn’t pay the doctor’s fee.”
“What happened to her?” A woman with a gold tooth asked.
“She died at sea.” Tilde answered with a smug grin, “Next came a few others- none as good as her, mind you- and now we have our dear Ace.”
The cabin boy in question looked up from where he was eating. Tilde set the bottle of wine back down on the table, “Perhaps you should let me deal with the unknown and focus on what we have here and now?”
Every pirate who had been listening ducked their heads and went back to their meal, although more subdued. They knew that life on the sea was rough, but the thought of a little girl dying to bring money to her parents was enough to tug on even the most briny of heartstrings. Tilde ignored the shift in mood, and tapped Ace on the head.
“Cabin boy, I need you to help me with the books.”
Ace set down his fork and knife and stood, giving the people he was eating with a small grin.
“Now, Ace.” Tilde called from the steps, “You can regale them with your terrible jokes later.”
The two left, seemingly taking all the noise with them. It seemed emptier without the presence of the larger-than-life Pirate Queen. Then someone spoke up.
“I’ll bet five gold pieces that we’ll find them both in Captain Tilde’s bed.”
The room erupted with shouts as the pirates countered the bet, none able to resist the call to gamble.
When Tilde said she needed help with the books, it wasn’t a ruse to get Ace alone like the other pirates often thought. She never learned how to read or write, so any records of their conquests had to be kept by Ace.
“You shouldn’t tell them that farm girl is dead.” He remarked, scribbling down the items that had been stolen through the day. The list was never-ending, and it was a sure condemnation if the ship were to be captured by the authorities, but Tilde wanted a record so she’d know when she was being cheated.
“Well, the farm girl is dead, isn’t she?” Tilde frowned, “She’ll never go home again.”
“Yes, well there’s a difference between being dead and being the scourge of the seas.” Ace muttered under his breath.
“And there’s a vast difference between being a cabin boy and being a prince, but that didn’t stop your parents from declaring you dead the day you ran away.”
Ace rolled his eyes, “It was either be declared dead or be murdered by my betrothed, and she wasn’t my type.”
“And pray tell, what is your type?”
He frowned, pretending to think, “My type is… strong and silent, with endless depths and teeming with life. Perhaps a bit salty, and incredibly dangerous at times, but when she’s still, she practically glows under the moonlight.”
Tilde sighed, staring out the window at the ocean, “She’s my type as well.”
“Is that why you’ll never go home?” Ace asked, setting aside the leger to fully engage in the conversation.
“No, that’s not it. I’ll never return home because there’s nothing left for me. Besides, I’m a wanted woman, or haven't you noticed that I have to disguise myself any time we go into town?”
“Do you ever regret leaving?”
Tilde lifted her head, jaw set and eyes as hard as diamonds.
“Neither do I.” Ace took Tilde’s hand in his own. If the pirates had been watching, they would have counted it towards the theory that the two were together. He didn’t mean it like that, and when Tilde squeezed his hand, she didn’t intend for it to be romantic.
“We’re just two lost souls looking for their place in the world, aren’t we?” She murmured, rubbing her thumb over Ace’s bruised knuckles.
“Perhaps we can never return to our homes.” Ace answered, “You’ll never be the farmer’s daughter again, and I’ll never be Prince Lucien again. We’re not lost souls though. You’re the Pirate Queen, and I’m your cabin boy.”
Tilde scoffed, “I’m the Pirate Queen, and you’re my best friend. Don’t sell yourself short.”
“Well I can certainly finish any bar fight you get bored with.”
Tilde flicked him in the nose, and Ace burst into laughter despite the sharp sting.
“Get back to the records, Cabin Boy. I have to chart tomorrow’s course.”
Ace picked up the leger and watched as Tilde sat down at her desk in front of a map. There was work to be done that was much more important than reminiscing about the past.
The next morning, money exchanged hands all around the ship as Tilde and Ace stumbled out of the cabin, ink smudged across their hands and Tilde’s face from when she fell asleep on the map. The crew could only watch in shock as Tilde walked to the bow and collected a handful of gold from the pirate who had bet that nothing would happen in response to the wild bets of romance and debauchery.
“It’s not fair if the captain bets!” Someone complained from the bridge.
“I didn’t bet, I struck a deal.” Tilde pocketed the gold with a grin, “It’s your own fault for thinking I’d try to seduce my cabin boy when I’m already married to the trade.”
Tilde knew would never go back to her farm. She’d never find out if her parents were alive or dead. That wasn’t part of her life anymore. As far as she was concerned, her true home was on the sea with her crew. She was a pirate queen, and she would rule her kingdom until the day she died.