Life at Castle PAC wasn’t awful. If she hadn’t been the hostage of pirates, Anna might have found it pleasant. She and Michaela woke at dawn and made their way to the communal showers. There were five private stalls on either side of the ceramic-tiled room, three of which still had privacy curtains. Anna had always managed to avoid showering with her peers after gym class, so she was thankful for the modicum of privacy and resolved to wake early every day, especially as the shower room was unisex.
Then they made their way to the kitchen where they washed the dishes from the night before, collected eggs, and waited for Cookie. Breakfast was at seven sharp, or whenever Cookie was damn well good and ready.
Cookie didn’t bother with lunch because, “They’re big boys. They can fend for themselves.” Anyway, the pirates were usually out flying, on the town, or some such. Besides, it was too hot in the kitchen to cook. Which left Anna and Michaela with plenty of free time in the middle of the day, even after they’d washed the breakfast dishes.
They wandered the castle, Anna making sure to bring her shoulderbag with its pens, pencils, notebook, and Truename Spyglass. They found the pirates’ quarters, a set of corridors filled with rough housing, drunken snores, and a distinct funk that had them both turning to leave immediately. They found an old chapel, dusty, abandoned, and filled with junk.
Michaela plucked from that junk a battered old guitar. She strummed it gently, turned tuning keys hesitantly, then strummed again.
“Still works. If only… Ah ha!” She grabbed a strap of leather from the junk and attached it to the guitar. “You think anyone would mind if I took this?”
“They’re pirates. I think they’d be more offended if you didn’t steal from them.”
Michaela plucked a melody when they found an open arched doorway to a set of stairs where stood a burly woman with a blunderbuss at her hip.
“Captain’s tower,” she said without prompting. “No visitors.”
“That’s a shame,” said Michaela. “I was hoping to see the view.”
The woman shrugged and pointed. “The tower over that way is unoccupied.”
It was a quarter of an hour twisting through hallways before they found the other tower. The staris were narrow, worn, and tightly spiraled. There was no handrail, so they made their way carefully. When the emerged at the top of the tower, they found themselves on a flat, circular platform nearly ten feet in diameter, protected by a half wall of rough-cut stone.
The wind caught at their hair and plucked at their clothes.
“Wow,” said Michaela. “the view really is nice.”
Across the bay dotted with sail boats and water planes, they could clearly see the city. It was large and bright spread up from the docks in a series of terraces. A large dome building stood at the back center. Surely it was the palace of the King of the City. Anna wished she knew more about the King of the City. There’d been talk of his alliance with the Witch of Money, Sabina. She wished she knew how the feud between the sisters was progressing. Had war broke out? Or perhaps Ivan’s half-brother had been found.
She pulled the True Name Spyglass from her shoulderbag, extended it, and looked over the bay at the city. It worked as it should, brining the city into sharp focus. She could make out individual shingles on buildings, individual people wandering the streets, she could even see into the windows of buildings and the rooms within.
“See anything magical?” Michaela asked as she tuned her new guitar.
Anna lowered the spyglass and looked at the other girl.
Michaela sat with her back against the halfwall, one knee up, one leg extended, curls swaying in the breeze. Her attention was on the guitar.
Anna raised the spyglass and looked at Michaela through it. Michaela was too close to get a good look at her, but she definitely didn’t look like a ghost.
“Just you,” Anna replied, lowering the spyglass again.
Michaela clutched at her guitar and looked down. It was difficult to tell against her dark skin, but Anna thought Michaela was blushing. Then she realized what she’d said.
“That is… I mean… At least you’re not a ghost.”
Michaela looked up sharply, expression unreadable.
“I mean… okay. I know you said we should be careful of the magic, that it might go away if we think about it too hard, but I haven’t seen any fog since leaving Glenwood and yet, here we are in a pirate castle, together. I don’t think it’s going to go away just talking about it.”
Michaela nodded. “All right. What are you getting at?”
Anna hesitated. “Could I… Could I sit with you?”
Michael smiled at her. “Of course.”
Anna sat on Michaela’s right to avoid the neck of the guitar. She sat close, so their shoulders almost touched.
“I was in the old City Hall because the basement is a records room. They’ve got the whole history of Glenwood there. I was trying to find the name Agayabab. It was a long shot but, nothing. I did, however, find the name of the people who built the house across the vale. Mr. and Mrs. Madigan. They had a daughter. Is that you? Are you Michaela Madigan?”
Michael nodded. “Yes. But why would you think I’m a ghost?”
“Because that was sixty years ago. The girl was fifteen then and you don’t look seventy-five years old to me.”
Michaela giggled. “Maybe I’ve aged well.”
“Like a fine wine?”
“Or cheese. I think I prefer cheese.”
They both laughed, Anna with relief. She’d been afraid Michaela would be mad at her.
“So, you’re from the future, huh?” Michaela said.
Anna shrugged. “I suppose.”
“Since we’re bursting magic bubbles, I should tell you, I’m just as afraid you’re a dream as you are that I’m a ghost.”
Anna nudged her. “Or seventy five.”
“Vivianna, after every one of our adventures, I wake up in bed. And Glenwood isn’t some mountain town. My house is in a suburb called Glenwood.”
“Every time I see you, it’s like waking up. But when we separate…” Michaela strummed her stolen guitar gently.
“Is Baba just a nightmare?”
Michaela shook her head, Auburn curls falling in front of her eyes.
“And you parents?”
“Out of town for the next two months. The bathhouse trip was a dream.”
“So, you’re a ghost and I’m a dream.”
“Or we’re from parallel dimensions. How did Ivan put it?”
“Same shelf, different books. Or, Glenwood isn’t all that uncommon a name. Maybe we just need to look for each other in the real world.”
“To do that, we’ll have to get back to the real world.”
• • •
Max was the junior most pirate with the PAC. He was often busy, but he was certain to check up on them when he could. He found them in the kitchen courtyard after dishes a few morning after their capture.
Through the spyglass, Max was a boy not much older than them, if that. He had light brown skin with dark freckles, soft grey eyes, a shaggy moptop, and an earnest expression.
“What’s that?” he asked
Anna showed him the spyglass hesitantly. “It was my father’s. I like to keep it with me, to remind me of him. You’re not gonna take it, are you?”
“Why would I do that?” Max cocked his head.
“You’re a pirate.”
“We’re the Pirate Ace Coalition. We have rules.” Then he looked thoughtful. “Just to be safe, keep that tucked away.”
For the most part they did not interact with the pirates. The members of the Pirate Ace Coalition had duties to attend; there were supply runs and negotiations, maintenance and training, this and that. And those duties largely involved not being in the castle, or at least not in those parts where the hostages whiled away their days.
But during breakfast and dinner they ate together in the same large dining hall, mumbly during breakfast, raucous during dinner. The hostages all sat together at one of the long tables and the pirates let them be. After a few days, the rest of the hostages seemed less enamored of their kidnapping adventure.
“How long does it take to pay a ransom?”
“She is, after all, the Witch of Money.”
“It shouldn’t be difficult to secure our release.”
“What kind of customer service is this?”
“I tried to tell you,” Geraldine said with an air of superiority.
“Well, she hasn’t gotten you out yet either,” said Peter, the young orchardist.
They kept their conversation to low whispers. Anna hadn’t said anything yet, but she started developing a plan of escape. She didn’t like the idea of abandoning the other hostages, but her idea probably only worked for her and Michaela, which is why she hadn’t said anything.
“Oy! Bring us that plate of cookies.”
Anna looked around to find a pig-headed pirate in a tanktop and oil-stained overalls with one strap missing. The skin of his arms was pink with black and grey mottles. He sat next to a badger-headed man of similar portliness in a holey t-shirt and jeans.
“Come get them yourself,” Geraldine snapped. “We’re not your servants.”
The pig-headed man snorted and pounded his fist on the table. None of the other pirates took notice over the usual cacophony of dinner.
“I said bring ‘em! You’re only protected if you do what you’re told.”
Anna looked around for help, Max perhaps, or Cookie, but she saw no sign of the dog-headed boy, the giant cook was on the other side of the room with Captain Tahoe, and no one else was looking at them. Except, when her eyes lit upon the fox-headed captain, he held a goblet to his face, expression hidden. She couldn’t tell if he was watching them.
“It’s all right,” said Michaela. “I’ve got it.” She picked up the plate of cookies, cinnamon and sugar this time, and carried it to the table where the portly pirates sat, leaning over to set it down. Anna bristled when she realized the men ogled her.
“Thank you, darling,” said the badger-headed man. Though his face wasn’t human, it was easy to see he was leering.
“Of course,” said Michaela. She turned to rejoin the hostages.
The pig-headed man smacked Michaela’s backside hard enough Anna heard it over the din, enough Michaela jumped and squeaked and hurried back to her chair. The men laughed and partook of the cookies.
“Are you hurt?” Anna asked.
Michaela cleared her throat nervously. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal.”
“Yes it is,” said Anna. “I’m…”
“No. You’ll just make it worse.”
“You’re damn right I will.”
“They want a reaction. If we ignore them, they’ll just go away.”
“In my experience, that’s not how bullies work.” Anna’s mind flashed to the end of the school, snide whispers, and thrown erasers.
“Vivianna, they’re pirates and we’re hostages. Please, don’t make things worse.”
“What’s that?” said Geraldine. Even trying to be quiet, her tone was sharp and intrusive.
“Nothing,” said Michaela. She looked at Anna.
Anna nodded. “Yeah, just, you know, some people can be incredibly rude.”
“We’ll be lucky if that’s the least they are,” Geraldine groused.
Under the din, Anna leaned in toward Michaela. “I’ve got an idea. For escape. We’ll talk after lights out?”
Michaela took a deep breath and nodded.
“Oy! Bring us some of that, uh, the rest of that cheese.”
Anna didn’t have to look to know it was the pig-headed man again. She looked around at the rest of the hostages, none of whom looked up, none of whom looked ready to deliver the plate with the scrap of cheese wedge. She cast her gaze about the rest of the room, still uncertain whether Captain Tahoe was watching her or staring off into space.
“Oy!” The pig-headed man pounded his fist on his table.
Michaela sighed, but Anna stood and snatched up the plate.
Anna’s blood coursed, her skin tingled, she didn’t know what she was going to do, but she knew she wasn’t going to let Michaela suffer that particular indignity again. She carried the ceramic plate to the table, feeling the weight of it. The men scooted aside to make room for her, effectively forcing her to stand between them to set it down. There was no space on the edge, so she’d have to lean forward.
“Here.” She held it out to the pig-headed man.
“Oh, set it down for us, sweetums,” he said in a tone she recognized. It was the tone of every bully who’d ever pretended to be nice in front of a teacher. He patted the table, as though inviting.
“Sure.” She leaned forward to set the plate down, knowing what was coming, like an eraser to the back of the ear.
A thick palm smacked her backside.
Anna gripped tight the edge of the plate, but she took a moment. She took a moment to decide whether or not this was really what she wanted to do. If she wanted to cause a scene, to fight back, to stand up for herself. It wasn’t what she usually did.
She took a breath.
While the men laughed, she turned, plate in hand, and smashed it against the side of the pig-man’s head as hard as she could. The plate cracked in three pieces. The cheese bounced and splatted upon the table. The pig-headed man squealed, a cut upon his forehead, a few droplets glistening in the air. Silence rippled through the room. Anna could only hear her own angry breathing. She glared at the pig-headed man, a third of a plate in either hand.
The badger-headed man grabbed her from behind, wrapping his burly arms around her chest, pinning her thin arms and lifting her off the floor. She let go the bits of plate and grabbed at the man’s arm, trying to make him let go, but it was like grabbing at a tree-trunk. Shouting filled the room, but Anna could make no sense of any of it. The badger-man squeezed her tight as the pig-man stood up. He grabbed the front of her borrowed dress and raised his other hand in a fist.
“Let her go!”
Though Anna’s eyes were fixed to the furious, mustouched expression of the pig-man’s broad face, she could just see Michaela shove the pig-man as hard as she could. But they were tiny compared to these animal-headed pirates.
“Easy, little girl,” the pig-man said. “I’m just gonna teach your boyfriend here a lesson in manners.”
He shoved Michaela and the girl stumbled back.
“Back off, Tony,” Max’s voice was edged with a growl. He came around from behind the badger-man, blunderbuss drawn,
“Go away, kid, this is grownup business,” the badger-man growled.
“These are my hostages,” Max said. “No one else is to touch them.” He put the barrel of his weapon against the pig-man’s chest, just under his ribs.
The pig-man’s expression turned surprised then angry then frightened.
“Easy now, Max,” said the pig-man. “There’s no need to be like this. You know how hostages can get out of hand sometimes.”
“You’re not supposed hassle hostages,” Max said. “That’s the rule.”
A new voice joined the party. “Well, this has all been very interesting, but let’s put our toys away and try to behave like adults.” Captain Tahoe came into view and put a hand on Max’s shoulder.
Max nodded. “Yes, sir,” and holstered his blunderbuss.
The badger-man put Anna on her feet. She stumbled and took a deep breath. Her vision was fuzzy, her balance unsteady.
“What do you have to say for yourself, boys?” Captain Tahoe continued.
Anna took several steps back, then Michaela was there with an arm around her shoulders.
“Are you hurt?” Michaela whispered.
Anna shook her head.
“I was just protecting my hostages, like you said I should,” Max said.
“And you, Anthony? Robert?”
“He smashed a plate across my face, Captain,” the pig-man said, pointing to the cut on his forehead, still bleeding.
“I demand punishment,” The pig-man shouted, looking around the room for support. There was some grumbling from the crowd.
The captain lazily put a hand upon the handle of his sword. “You demand?”
Tony cleared his piggy throat. “Uh, that is, I request, Captain, this hostage be transferred to the brig. He assaulted me.”
The captain nodded thoughtfully. “Max, take your hostages to my office. We’ll discuss this there.”
“Come on,” Max said in an undertone. “Let’s go.”
He led them from the dining hall. Captain Tahoe stayed with the pirates.
“We’re in trouble, aren’t we?” Michaela said.
“Captain Tahoe is a fair captain,” Max said.
“That doesn’t mean we’re not in trouble,” Anna said. She looked down at her hands, still shaking.
“Yeah,” said Max. “Well… yeah.”
They walked in silence to the base of the tower Anna and Michaela had found a few days ago. The same burly woman stood at the entrance. She gave them a look.
“Captain said I’m to take these hostages up to his room. There’s been… an incident.”
The woman grunted and stepped aside and they walked up the narrow, winding, stone stairs to a room much nicer than Anna would have thought. A large wooden desk stood in the center of the room, intricately carved and well polished, upon a lavish, brightly colored carpet. Large windows of with stained glass looked out over the ocean and a mid-summer sunset. A large, high-backed, throne-like chair stood on the far side of the desk.
“Now what?” Anna asked.
“Now we wait,” Max said.
Anna looked at Michaela. “Are you all right?”
Michaela crossed her arms, expression tight. “I didn’t need you to interfere.”
Anna bit her lip. She’d been afraid when the badger-man had grabbed her, anxious when Captain Tahoe had sent them to his office, but it was nothing compared to what she felt now. Michaela was angry with her.
“I had it handled,” Michaela said.
“By letting them bully you?”
“I’ve dealt with bullies before.”
“Well I haven’t. All I’ve ever done is keep my head down, or tell a teacher, or just let it happen. I wasn’t interfering, Michaela, I was standing up for myself. For all of us. I’ve never stood up to a bully before.”
“What if they hurt you? What if they did worse? I can’t stand to lose you!”
“Yeah? Well, I can’t stand to see someone treating you like that.”
“You’re not listening to me.”
The tread of boots on stone made them all turn to find Captain Tahoe had arrived. His presence filled the room. He took off his jacket, sky blue with gold embroidery, unbuckled his sword belt, and hung both from a coat stand behind the desk, leaving him in a sleeveless, black silk shirt and loose red and white striped pants. He didn’t wear shoes leaving his fox paws bare. He swished his tail and sat in the chair behind the desk.
“All right, ladies, I take it one of those cads put his hands upon you?”
Anna nodded, relieved at Captain Tahoe’s tone.
“At which point you,” he pointed at Anna, “Took it upon yourself to strike one of my men.”
Anna cleared her throat. “Yes, sir.”
The captain leaned forward, expression mild as though listening to a vaguely entertaining tale.
“And why did you decide to do that, young lady?” His voice shifted, a bit higher, a bit softer, and this close up, Anna could see the captain’s fox-face was rounder than she’d thought. His bare shoulders seemed slimmer and he smelled faintly of vanilla. Anna wondered if she’d miscategorized Captain Tahoe.
Anna cleared her throat. “I’ve met people like them, in school. I’ve tried just ignoring it, hoping they’d go away. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. I wanted to show strength. Among pirates, I thought that would be appreciated.” She glanced at Michaela. “I’m sorry. I should have listened to you.”
“So, you did it for your lover,” the captain said with a hint of interest.
Anna blushed so fast tears welled in her eyes.
“No,” said Michaela. “She did it for herself. I’ve dealt with people like that too, and they want the attention. They think it’s funny, and it just makes things worse the next time.” She crossed her arms firmly.
The captain nodded. “Very well. Forty lashes and a night in the brig.”
Anna’s knees went weak and she stumbled back.
“What?” said Michaela. “No.” She interposed herself between Anna and Captain Tahoe.
The captain sat up and put his long, slim-fingered hands upon the desk. “Excuse me? You object? I thought you wanted her to not get involved.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” Michaela said.
“Um… Michaela? Maybe don’t talk to the captain like that?” Max said.
“It’s all right, Max. I want to hear what she has to say.” The Captain grinned, small, sharp teeth exposed.
“Max says you’re a good, fair person. You’ve already admitted your men behaved inappropriately. So why threaten us with beating and imprisonment?”
“It takes two to tango,” said the captain.
Anna had always hated that phrase. She heard it from authority figures often when she complained of being harassed.
“We weren’t dancing,” Michaela replied.
Anna took a breath and found her balance. “Perhaps I acted poorly, but I’m done letting people treat me like that without responding.”
The captain nodded. Anna held her breath.
After several moments, he said, “Extra kitchen duties. My personal chef goes on a supply run tomorrow. You’ll accompany him. Max, go tell Cookie he’ll have help tomorrow.”
Max saluted. “Yes, sir,” and hurried from the office.
Captain Tahoe watched him go with a faint smile. “He really is a good boy-o.”
Anna looked at Michaela who looked at her, puzzled.
“All right, girls, here’s the thing. The Witch of Money isn’t going to pay your ransom. We’ve been in negotiations and she will pay for the others, its part of her customer service policy, but she says the two of you aren’t in her records of having been customers.”
Anna glanced at Michaela.
“Furthermore, the fine gentleman who hired us to kidnap the lot of you in the first place has made himself scarce. Which means the two of you a have become a liability. And now this,” he gestured broadly. Captain Tahoe looked at them steadily.
“You want us to leave,” Anna said.
“Let me be perfectly clear,” said Captain Tahoe. “I am in no way encouraging you to escape tomorrow when you accompany Cookie on his supply run to the city. To do so would be a breach of the pirate hostage relationship.” He opened a drawer and withdrew a small paper envelope and pushed it across the desk.
Anna stepped up to the desk and took the envelope. Inside were a pair of red and gold train tickets. There was no specific date or destination, instead they were labeled as open-ended.
“I see,” said Anna. She tucked the envelope into her shoulderbag where her fingers brushed against the Truename Spyglass. “May I ask you a question, Captain Tahoe?”
The captain smiled, showing off his small, sharp teeth. “You may ask.”
“You said the gentleman who hired you: we’ve been assuming it was the Witch of Puppets who orchestrated the kidnapping as part of their feud.”
Captain Tahoe shrugged. “A witch can be a man.”
“I suppose so, but unless the vocabulary on this side of the fog is much different, a sister is a woman and as I understand it, Yulana the Witch of Puppets is the sister of Sabina, the Witch of Money. All of which suggests it was not her who hired you.”
Captain Tahoe spread his hands and shrugged. “If you say so, young lady. You haven’t actually asked a question yet.”
“We made a promise,” Anna said. She looked at Michaela and Michaela nodded. “We promised to help find Oscar Agayabab. I’m sure you’re aware it’s his disappearance that’s re-sparked the feud between witches. Maybe if we knew who hired you, we could figure out who’s responsible for Oscar Agayabab’s disappearance.”
“And why would I want Oscar Agayabab found? I’m a pirate. I thrive on discord and chaos.”
Anna nodded. “I can understand that, but you also rely on the city for supply runs. If the region devolves into anarchy, who’s going to sell you basic goods? Who’s going to grow crops or raise livestock? For that matter, who’s going to be rich enough to warrant kidnapping and ransom? You may thrive on discord, Captain Tahoe, but you still require the basic underpinnings of society.”
The captain chuckled, a high, merry sound. “Ladies Yulana and Sabina are over a hundred years old and have hated each other for most of that time. You really think you can get them to stop fighting?”
“I don’t know,” said Anna. “But I should at least try to help.” She wrapped her hand around the Truename Spylgass and withdrew it from her shoulderbag.
Captain Tahoe leaned forward over his desk. “Well now. That’s a pretty bauble.”
“It’s called the Truenname Spyglass. Have you heard of it?”
The fox-headed pirate captain raised an eyebrow at her. “You’re showing your, hand, young miss. Why?”
“Because you know more than you’re letting on,” said Anna. “You know who hired you and why. I’m showing you this because Ivan Agayabab seemed to think this thing could help find Oscar. And I think you want an eventual resolution to this conflict. I think you want it more than you want a pretty bauble.
“So here’s my question, Captain Tahoe: who hired you to kidnap us?”
Captain Tahoe sat back in his chair, resting his hands on thick-cushioned arms.
“It would be a breach of contract to give you that information. But, I must say, you’ve the right of it. All out war would be good for business for a time, but in the aftermath, privateers and bounty hunters become pirates and outlaws, scapegoats for resultant ills. So, I’ll tell you what, young miss. Give me your word you’ll make good use of those tickets you’ve found, that bauble you hold, and answer me one question. Do that, and I’ll give you the information you’ve asked for.”
Anna looked at Michaela.
“We can do that,” Michaela said.
“And your question, Captain?” Anna asked.
The captain pointed at the Truename Spyglass. “What do you see when you look through that thing at me?”
Anna extended the spyglass, took several steps back, and looked at Captain Tahoe through it. She saw Captain Tahoe from the chest up. The captain’s head wasn’t covered in the fine black and orange fur of a fox, no pointed fox ears or muzzle, no whiskers, no sharp teeth. Instead she saw the features of a young woman, or a soft-featured man. She had titled, bright blue eyes and sharp cheek bones, straight, glossy black hair falling to her shoulders. Her skin was smooth and flawless. Anna handed the spyglass to Michaela.
“Blue eyes, black hair, high cheekbones…” said Anna.
“You are as beautiful in human form as you are in fox,” said Michaela.
The captain raised her eyebrows and laughed. “I’ve already granted you freedom, young lady. There’s no need for flattery. What I want to know is, do you see a man, or a woman?”
Michaela lowered the spyglass, collapsed it, and handed it to Anna, who tucked it away. The girls looked at each other.
Michaela gave a small shrug. “Honestly, captain, I’m not sure. What were you expecting?”
The captain shook his head. “The man you’re looking for is Bridgeford, the Minister of War for the Witch of Money. I don’t know why or if he’s working for someone else. Now, off with you. And try to look properly chastened. Imagine I gave you both a thorough thrashing.” The captain stood and went to the window behind his desk.