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The loading of supplies took place for the whole day the next day. We had extra sails and timber placed in the bottom deck. Canned goods such as food and fruits were placed on the deck above it, kept tightly bound in wooden crates that were tied and locked firmly to the floor. Above it were the offices of ship officers, you know, like quartermaster, boatswain, carpenter and sailmaker as well as some trade goods, since we might as well go trade some stuff.
 
The deck above that was crew quarters with a large number of hammocks tied all over the place. On the aft side of the same deck were private quarters, originally designed for people who would pay for transportation. Now the private quarters were taken by the nobles and their staffs who would be handling the ransom negotiations instead.

On the deck above it were the oar houses and more crew accommodations as well as the game deck for bored crews and a kitchen in front. The oar houses were actually not houses, but simply an area along the hull with two levels, with each level on each side having ten oars and seats for oarsmen. It would be used at times of no wind and also during a port approach. It was tight, but the crew would just have to deal with it. It's a ship after all.

******

"Captain, we are sailing close to the port city of Hollehafen. Would you like to come on deck and have a look?"

I looked up from my desk to the doorway and standing there was a large man with a noticeable horizontal scar on the left of his neck. He was pretty big, twice my size. Hanging on the left side of his waist belt was a cutlass that looked too big to be wieldy and a whip was on the other side of his belt. This man was one of the guardsmen that grandfather lent me for this mission. He was also my first mate, with extensive experience in grandfather's war fleet of three ships (lol), Mr. Lustri.

"I see. So we have reached Rotenheim's border. Are we docking in Hollehafen?"

"Not unless you wish it, captain."

"Are we good for supplies?"

"Gani informed me that we have enough supplies for a whole month at sea, but we won't be at sea for that long."

"Ah right, I forgot I made Gani the quartermaster. Is he doing his job well, Mr. Lustri?"

"As well as any that I've seen, captain. He's right at home with my men too."

By 'his men', he referred to the men that grandfather lent me, obviously. As we had no adult men left at the village and even the former bandits were taken to the battlefield, we had to make do somehow. The ship still needed to be crewed.

Originally, I only asked grandfather for twenty guardsmen with sailing experience. Grandfather gave me eighty instead, but only thirty-three of them had sailing experience. The rest were noobs or in pirate (yarr!) terms landlubbers. At least they were useful in manning the forty sweeps and could be counted on in cases of boardings.

Therefore, I enlisted the wives and daughters of the barony's fishermen to assist. Their jobs were generally in the realm of cooking, cleaning and if needed, fighting as well. Unfortunately, I knew nothing of naval hand-to-hand battles, so I had Mr. Lustri, who had been a veteran in grandfather's naval fleet of three ships (lol) teach them sea fighting techniques. With most of them being my spear sentries, I had confidence in their abilities. It would be hard to switch to cutlasses though, especially since they've been drilled in phalanx formations. The women on board numbered twenty-six people, not counting Lili and me.

Since those obviously weren't enough to crew such a large ship, I had to find another source. So I had boys too young to go to war become my crewmen. They ranged from nine year olds to 14 year olds. Their tasks were generally to assist in odd jobs, to climb the mast posts and to tie the sails. In battles, they would likely be positioned in the inner decks to protect the nobles we were transporting. These boys numbered fifty-five.

Yup, we're transporting nobles. Now, I assure you, this wasn't part of the plan. Apparently, grandfather had already finished discussion on the matter of the ransom expedition. They were planning on travelling by the river route using grandfather's fleet of three ships (lol) since travel by land would take far too long and would bring them right in the middle of enemy camp. The decision to use my ship was made hastily after they discovered that my ship would be far more comfortable, safe and stylish than the biremes that passed as warships (lol) in grandfather's port.

"I'll be up on the top deck in a while. Please go ahead, Mr. Lustri."

"Aye, captain. By your leave." he said as he left, closing the door quietly behind him.

"You've been quiet, Lili. Is something the matter?" I asked towards Lili who had been standing next to the desk. I told her earlier she could sit, it must be tiring to remain standing on the swaying deck, but she refused.

"Why did you make Mr. Lustri your assistant, my lady? True, he was recommended by the duke, but we know nothing about him. He could be an assassin sent by the enemy or paid to deliver you to the enemy, my lady."

"Lili, please tell me, who are my enemies?"

"Surfes would be the most obvious. The bandit group that you destroyed will most likely want to kill you. The greedy merchants whom you banished from Mruna probably hold a grudge. And it seems like your recent changes in Mruna aren't very popular with the other nobles as well."

"My my, you've definitely done your homework, Lili," I said as I opened my notebook and wrote some stuff inside it, "But Lili, you're too paranoid. In Surfes's eyes, I'm a non-entity, they probably don't even know I exist. The bandit groups can't touch me, I have my loyal spear sentries for that. The greedy merchants can fume all they want, I'll kick them out a second time if they try to pull their scams in Mruna again. And as for attempts from the nobles, I have grandfather and YOU to take care of that, don't I?"

"My lady, I'm very flattered that you think I who am in training would be able to protect you, but that may not be the case when confronted with highly skilled-"

"Lili."

"Yes, my lady?"

"I know Suin trained you to be paranoid and to think the worst of everything, but I believe in you. So believe in yourself. Besides, I'm not important enough to be assassinated unless I somehow insult our culture and religion. You can rest easy."

"What about your brother, my lady?"

My writing hand stopped abruptly, before I moved the quill back into the ink bottle.

"Yucks is not a threat. Why are you mentioning him all of a sudden?"

"Not Sir Yox, my lady. You know who I'm talking about. He sent you a letter telling you not to go to Lytis."

Without realizing it, my body trembled violently, recalling the face of the person I loathed the most.

"Do not speak of him, Lili." My voice trembled as my fingers crushed the quill.

"Even he told you not to go. Don't you think it's a clear threat, my lady? Stay in Mruna or die in Lytis?”

"I SAID DO NOT SPEAK OF HIM!" I stood up in anger, without noticing my quill hand hit the bottle of ink violently, throwing it against the wooden wall of my cabin and painting black my new floor and wall.

Lili remained quiet this time and my anger slowly subsided.

"He can try, Lili," I said as I sat back down on my chair, trying to continue writing, but then I found that my quill had broken into two and the bottle of ink that was on my desk was nowhere to be seen. While taking out a new bottle and quill from the drawer, I told her, "No matter what he does, regardless if he can see the future, I will not stay quiet in Mruna because of this fear he put into me."

I wrote a few more words into my notebook before adding, "He will not control me. I will NOT remain afraid of him or his strange powers."

"Then I shall stay with you and protect you with all that I have, my lady. If he makes his moves, I will be there to take your place."

"Stop. You're talking as if he's going to kill me. You know he won't. Probably won't, at least. No, he probably would. Let’s not talk about him anymore."

"I beg forgiveness for bringing that up, my lady."

"It's fine..." I said as I finished the last of my entry and closed the notebook before placing it into a locked drawer. "Shall we go to see the famous port of Hollehafen then?"

"I will be right behind you, my lady."

******

Sorry, I forgot to do this earlier. Let's do a little bit of introduction.

Hi everyone, it's the reincarnated Lady Felicia again. How are you doing? Ah, but for now, don't call me Lady Felicia, call me Captain Felicia, okay? Because we are on a ship!

This ship is a 6 deck brig, with 40 sweeps, three ballistae and crewed by 161 men, women and boys. That's right, although grandfather lent me eighty sailors, there was still not enough crew, so I had to get some others too, you know. That was why I had to get the wives, daughters and sons of the fishermen to become my crew. Naturally, since the nobles handling the negotiations are here too and insisted on bringing their own staff, I had them volunteer their non-essential helpers as crewmen too. Otherwise, they'd just be a waste of space.

Thankfully, I had grandfather draft a contract with the nobles, in that I, Felicia, am the captain and everyone on board must obey my orders or the orders of those I give power to. The nobles are not allowed to override my orders as long as their safety or privileges aren't at risk. In exchange, I would carry them to and back from the enemy city. Grandfather had all of the nobles sign the contract and I kept a copy with me at all times.

With me right now are Gani and Lili. Lemy wanted to come too but I told him to stay in Mruna because he was the manager of my businesses. Somme still couldn't get out of bed because of the injuries he suffered at the bandit camp, so I had him stay home too. I had Serin stay in Mruna because her training as medicus was still not yet done and taking her with me would be counter-productive to my future plans. Lili had completed her basic training with Suin and Suin advised me to take her with me so that Lili could gain experience about the world at large. With the completion of this ship, Gani had nothing to do, so of course, I brought him with me.

Maybe you're wondering what the name of this ship is? Muhahahaha! I got the perfect name for it. The name of the ship is ‘The Abundance of Lollipops’! Amazing, right? Fufu, my naming sense is top-notch! You're asking me why I'm naming the biggest, most imposing ship of this age something like ‘The Abundance of Lollipops’? Well, Gani asked me that too.

"This is a lollipop," I told him as I opened a box filled with a swirly-coloured circular sugar on a stick and put it into my mouth.

"A candy?" Gani asked.

"And this," I said as I opened another box, filled with twelve pieces of what at first glance looked like a WW2 Stielhandgranate but with stabilizer fins on the stick end and a bodkin arrowhead on the explosive end. Instead of a pull cord, it had a long fuse ignitable by fire.

"It's not even the same shape, my lady."

True, the one in my mouth was of the typical lollipop shape. The other was more like an ice pop or popsicle. "Don't mind it, they're both lollipops, in a way," I told him.

The stick grenade was actually a weapon, a type of concussion grenade. It could be thrown by hand or placed on a ballista and fired at an enemy's ship for medium range firepower. I had plans to make a stick grenade that burned instead of exploded, but I didn't have the time to do the research with what I had on hand. I have already drawn the plans for a small scale synth-gas plant, but I haven't actually built it as I ran out of space on my land. Now I understand why in fantasy stories, wizards always live in towers. They must've easily run out of space too.

I couldn't use the name The Abundance of Popsicles because it was a brand of ice pop and I could get sued for it. Naming my ship The Abundance of Ice Pops simply wouldn't sound as good and what would the ice refer to? Naming it lollipop however, was awesome, as we were transporting lollipops after all. If we're going to an enemy port, might as well go trade some stuff too, am I right? Money is good. Money is great. Money makes the best sounds. Cha-ching!

Plus, I just knew I would laugh whenever I hear conversations concerning my ship. Such as "Captain, we are being attacked by Abundance of Lollipops!" or "Captain, we are being burned down by Abundance of Lollipops!" Ahh, lollipops. You have no idea how much you're going to make me laugh.

******

"It's nice, don't you think, Lili?" I said with one hand on the wheel that controlled the ship's rudder.

"It's relaxing, my lady," Lili agreed.

"True, now if only those annoying noblemen weren’t on board," I sighed.

"I heard they made demands for special provisions from Gani this morning. Gani complained that he was barely able to hold his anger."

"Give it time. With Gani's temper, I bet he would blow up soon."

"I bet 3 days, my lady."

"2 days. Whoever closest gets to tell the other to do whatever."

"Are you serious, my lady?"

"Absolutely."

"Anything?"

"Yes... okay maybe not anything. You're talking as if you already know that you've won."

"Maybe," Lili said with a giggle.

"Ships ahoy!" the kid in the bird's nest announced.

Meeting ships by itself is normal, this is a river trade route after all, even if the river is wide enough to be called a sea. What the boy meant must be an anomaly. Such as a ship with unusual speed heading towards us or ships in a battle.

"Ships ahoy, west by northwest!" he said with more details after grabbing our attention.

I quickly pulled out the telescope at my belt and looked at the direction specified. Now, before you guys say anything, I didn't 'invent' the telescope, they already had telescopes about a hundred years before I was even born. They even had eyeglasses since before I was born. So it was nothing new and I didn't know enough about them to improve the designs, not that I would have had the time anyway.

"What are you seeing, my lady?" Lili asked.

"A merchant ship is being attacked by river pirates. Call Mr. Lustri."

A short while later, Mr. Lustri arrived, bringing up his own telescope as he approached me. Looking through his own telescope, he remarked, "That's a Surfesian ship, captain."

"It's still a merchant ship."

"We have no obligation to help them, captain."

"Mr. Lustri, set course towards the merchant ship. Full speed ahead."

"Aye, captain. Mr. Kolle, hard to starboard. Mr. Lars, ring the bell. Oarmaster Gael, have the oars manned and prepare for full ramming speed," Mr. Lustri commanded but then he said to me with a whisper, "Captain, that's a Surfesian ship."

"You have already made that clear."

"We're at war with Surfes."

"I'm quite clear about that."

"Why are we saving them?"

"We're not saving them."

"We're not?"

"We won't even get to fight. Just watch."

My prediction proved true. Instead of a battle, the moment the pirates noticed our approach, they quickly went back into their longboat and escaped. Of course, I could understand their fear. With a ship this size, what else could it be other than a warship? Even if we were a merchant ship, we'd have at least a hundred crewmen just from looking at the number of oars alone. The crew of a single longboat couldn't possible defeat a fully manned ship of this size. Naturally, no other ship in this area was as big as this, so of course, they would be afraid of facing the unknown. That fear made the decision for them, so they escaped without putting up any fight. Nobody would want to die pointlessly.

It was similar to how pirates of the Caribbean would run away from the sight of an approaching frigate.

Seeing this, Mr. Lustri bowed and humbly told me he still had a lot to learn.

The moment we approached, however, the fighters on the merchant ship that  consisted of twelve men still standing, threw down their weapons and surrendered. Even the merchant who appeared to be one of the men fighting, threw his cutlass on the deck and knelt in surrender.

Ah, it's because we fly the Forlendian flag. They think we're here to seize their goods. They're also feeling the same fear as the pirates.

"Please, my lord, spare my ship and crew. Life has been hard for us ever since the war started," the merchant who wore better clothes than the others pleaded on his knees.

Except that he was pleading to Mr. Lustri. Unless he had the squints, he was pleading to the wrong guy.

"What do you think, captain?" Mr. Lustri asked noticing that he had become the center of attention.

"Where are you headed to, merchant?" I asked the merchant directly.

The merchant appeared confused when I was the one who spoke, but he quickly recovered and said with his eyes towards me, "We are on our way to the port of Kaliche in Surfes from Hollehafen, my lady."

"What is your name, merchant?" I asked again.

"My name is Karlus, son of Ferasta, my lady."

"I am Captain Felicia of The Abundance of Lollipops, we are going the same way. We shall escort you there."

"Captain? But..." he looked at Mr. Lustri.

"I am Lustri, son of Rowl. I am first mate of The Abundance of Lollipops. The captain just made you an offer, what do you say?"

The merchant turned to look at me again, this time with a tinge of fear. "Captain, please forgive my rudeness, but I only have twenty gold in hand, I can't possibly afford to-"

"Twenty gold is enough. Hand it over to Mr. Lustri and we can be on our way," I said as I turned around and disappeared into my cabin in the aftcastle of the ship.

Lili closed the door behind me before she said, "My lady, did you just threaten the man into giving you twenty gold for free?"

"Threaten? What nonsense! Hehehehehe. I didn't threaten him into doing anything. It's not my fault that he was intimidated by my big ship, fully armed crews and the fear that I could just take his life and his stuff if he refused. Ahahahahahahah!!! This is too good! Ahahahahahaha!"

"Sometimes I wonder if I'm serving a villain, my lady," Lili whispered hoping that I didn't hear.
******

"You woke me up for this?" I looked at Mr. Lustri from the corner of my eye after confirming the object in question.

"It's very peculiar, captain. They're simply following us while making no attempt to approach. It's probably the same pirate longboat that we scared off this morning."

"So they're watching us, sizing us up, but they won't dare approach. We're too big and well-armed."

"It's still worrying, captain. Should I send boats of fighters to get rid of them?"

"Lili, get me a lollipop."

"Yes, my lady," Lili said as she went below-deck to fetch me my request.

"You worry too much, Mr. Lustri. You'll grow old faster. How old are you anyway?"

"I'm twenty-eight summers this year, captain."

"Twenty-eight? And you already have a full head of grey hairs?"

"I was told it was in my blood, captain. My old man was the same."

"My lady, here you are," Lili returned handing me a piece of lollipop with both hands.

"Thanks Lili," I said as I tore off the waxed paper covering the lollipop before putting the candy into my mouth.

Then I moved to the ballista, took out the lollipop in my mouth and was about to place it on the ballista before I realized, "Waaaait! It's wroonggg! This isn't the lollipop that I meant! I mean the big lollipops, the one that goes boom, Lili!"

"Eh? I apologize for the misunderstanding, my lady. I'll fetch it right away. Do you want me to put the lollipop back, my lady?"

I looked at the lollipop in my hand and put it back into my mouth. "Never mind about this, it had already went inside my mouth. Darn, eating candy at night, I'm definitely going to get cavities like this. I need to invent a toothbrush."

While I was licking the lollipop, Lili returned with the one I asked for, a one and a half-foot long concussion grenade in the form of stielhandgranate but with stabilizer fins on its stick side and a bodkin head in front of the explosive side. I told Mr. Lustri to have the rear port ballista wound up.

"Salis, Freben, you heard the captain."

After saluting, they went ahead with winding up one of our two rear ballista. They hadn't had much training with it, so their movements were a little awkward. Ballistae weren't a new invention, but they usually had skilled elite soldiers manning them and were usually well protected in the rear of the battlefield, being used only to take down castle gates where a battering ram would be too risky to attempt. So most new recruits would never have even touched one, and it was unheard of to carry ballistae as armament on a ship, since they were too heavy for an average ship to carry. However, my ship was no average ship. I could probably put six more ballistae on my ship if I wanted to, though I only had time to build three.

When they were done, I placed the lollipop onto the ballista, setting it firmly into the groove meant for the fins. Then I estimated the range and the possible strength of the tension in the ballista before snapping off a length of fuse. I lighted up the snapped off fuse on a lantern and used it to light up the fuse still attached to the lollipop. Then I released the hook attached to the ballista's string and gave them direction in aiming the ballista while the fuse became shorter with every second that passed.

I hear someone mentioning ‘cannons’. Okay, let me make it clear from the start. Yes, I can build cannon, they’re not that hard anyway, especially since I know how to make steel. The reason I didn’t was because of two reasons. One, I don’t want to push technology too far ahead. I want to be the ONLY one to have gunpowder technology so that it won’t be used against me. I know eventually they’d discover gunpowder anyway, but as long as I maintain secrecy, they won’t hear it from me. The second was because cannons were heavy. This translates to the inability to hit swiftly-moving targets, such as the agile biremes and triremes. What’s the point of having power if it can’t hit the target?

"Fire!" I ordered once I was satisfied with the ballista's aim. The lollipop and its sparking fuse flew in the night sky, before the light from the fuse disappeared and the lollipop itself fell into the cold water.

"It missed," Mr. Lustri stated.

"Doesn't matter," I said while looking through my telescope, "It's hollow, it floats."

Not long after I said that, something exploded against the longboat's port-side, capsizing it and throwing the men in the boat into the water. It probably didn't have enough power to make a hole in the hull since it didn't hit, but the impact from the shockwave was enough to turn the ship over. If it wasn't enough, I would just fire a second one. I still had eleven.

"Captain, I am again humbled by your tactics," Mr. Lustri bowed respectfully.

Fufufu. Yes, praise me more.

******

 We bade farewell to the Surfesian merchant ship about three miles from the port of Kaliche in Surfes’s territory. At this point, there was no more threat to the merchant ship since the coastal patrol would be around to keep it safe from pirates. Unfortunately, Kaliche was an enemy port and not designated as a neutral port for trading. With our heavily armed-looking warship, approaching Kaliche would probably trigger a diplomatic incident. So after seeing off the merchant ship, we raised the sails and set off at full speed straight towards Lytis, or as straight as the wind allowed us.

It was two nights later that another incident happened. I was sleeping after a stressful argument with the nobles. They were unsatisfied with the food they'd been getting on the ship and demanded double servings each day. Obviously, they thought I was going be a pushover because of my age. When I said no, with no uncertainty whatsoever, they went to my quartermaster Gani. Gani finally blew up, much to Lili's glee, since that meant she won the bet. As reward for winning the bet, Lili asked if she'd be allowed to sleep in the same bed with me for the night.

Now, a normal noble lady would probably think that Lili just wanted to know how it would feel sleeping in a noblewoman's bed. I on the other hand would probably think Lili missed the days when we slept together as kids years ago. Unfortunately, Lili already confessed her feelings towards me and I knew this was already something else. I had a sudden fear that I would be attacked in my sleep.

She looked so hopeful, and I knew it must've taken her a lot of courage to ask that. Looking at that cute puppy dog eyes, who could say no? Besides, I still like girls, even though I have accepted that I would have to marry men in my second life. So I consented to her request. The look of happiness on her face made my heart beat furiously.

I did get attacked that night, but not by Lili. I woke up when I noticed the bed shifted. Lili was no longer by my side, but once my eyes adjusted to the darkness and the grogginess faded, I could hear sounds of something falling to the floor. There were shadows in the room, but apart from Lili’s silhouette, I couldn’t make out anything else.

"Lili?" I asked.

"Are you awake, my lady? Please don't worry, I'm already done," she said as she made a sound of dragging something heavy on the floor.

I quickly lighted up a lantern and could finally see what she was dragging. It was the corpses of two men! They were wearing black cloaks with their blood pooling under them. Shortly after, there was the sound of tolling bells.

Something is happening!

I quickly got up, grabbed my robe, my new sword, my two guns and my bullet belt and stepped over the bodies of the two men that Lili had already let go since the warning bell sounded.

"Please stay close to me, my lady," Lili said as she wiped her bloody knife on a piece of tissue paper.

Together, we came out into the scene of a battlefield. Around us were my men and women fighting against black-clothed men wielding cutlasses and daggers. My men also wielded cutlasses though the women all wielded either short pikes or their spear sentry standard issue throwing knives. It seemed like they were not confident with fighting using cutlasses yet. Or it could be that they couldn't get ahold of any cutlasses and only used their throwing knives as melee weapons since three of them were strapped to their belts. Similarly, the knife Lili was using was also a spear sentry standard issue throwing knife.

"My lady, duck!" Lili said as I quickly went down on deck. Lili threw the throwing knife in her hand and hit the man who was about to throw his own dagger at me from behind.

From my position, I could also see men approaching Lili from behind and her left, so I let loose with my guns. The explosive sound of the gun stunned everyone except Lili, Gani and I. As the men I shot fell to the deck from the wounds that penetrated their unarmoured bodies and hitting the men behind them , I stood up, pulling the hammer again and fired a second volley when they overcame their shock and came at me as one.

Gani, Lili and Mr. Lustri protected me as I reloaded my gun. Each time I ran out of bullets, they would come forward and shielded me as I reloaded. Eventually my spear sentries (armed with only throwing knives and short pikes) managed to fight their way towards me. On the cramped aftcastle, the women formed the only formation they knew of, the phalanx, but without the spears, the shields or the armour. They had to make do with a throwing knife in each hand, the left functioning as a parrying weapon, the right functioning as a stabbing weapon.

It was a close quarter combat technique that I drilled them in, remnant of my days as barbarian re-enactor. The instructor I learned from told me the style was designed for cases where there would not be enough space to use shields and spears. Naturally, a woman's strength couldn’t compare to a man's muscle strength, so deflecting sword thrust was a better option than blocking it. It might not look like much, but it was a very versatile fighting method. Against an opponent with a shield, it might not be of much use. But against opponents with long swords, large swords or spears, as long as the knife user could get in range, she would have a chance of winning. Heavy weapons had great damage, but they were also slow. For each slash of a heavy weapon, a dual-wielding knife user could make three separate stabs and slashes if the weapon proficiency was at the same level. Unfortunately, this fighting technique would be pointless in large scale open battles as a volley of arrows could easily mow down whole sections of them.

However, it provided enough of a buffer for me to shoot and reload as I pleased with no danger to myself. Anytime a pirate came within range of one of them, she would parry a blow, while those on her right and left side would take a step forward and thrust their knives into the offender's guts or chest, creating multiple wounds within a period of one or two seconds. At some point, the pile of corpses started blocking the way and the rest of the pirates hesitated to move forward, which made them easy targets for my guns. The battle was over when the soldiers below decks managed to push the invaders out into the open, after which they became clear targets for my guns and my archers.

In total, we killed over one hundred pirates, with me dealing over ten kills on my own. It was mostly because they were unarmoured and my bullets easily tore through their bodies and hit the pirates behind them. I had to thank them for crowding up around me, I would probably hit my own men if they hadn’t come at me as a crowd. Considering that only one hundred and six men and women actually fought, it was a pretty good outcome. We lost twenty-two people, mostly due to the initial surprise attack, but there was nothing I could do about it. I swore to their spirits that I would take care of their families, and that was all I could promise them.

So now we had sixteen pirate prisoners, including the captain of one of the pirate longboats. Apparently, the captains of different pirate longboats came together and discussed hitting my ship together. The pirates who came on board first were the black clothed 'Night Raiders' group. They caught us by surprise with their night attack. I did not train my spear sentries in night warfare, since nobody attempted it in the battlefield. So this shocked me a lot and because of that I lost some good soldiers. Out of about twenty that came on board, only three survived the battle.

The rest of them were from the 'Stare Viper' pirate group, supposedly the underdog of the five pirate groups that attacked us. From what I learned later, they were only formed a few months previous by survivors of the first campaign in the war between Surfes and Forlendia. With their homes destroyed and their families having nothing to eat, they resorted to piracy. Of course, that excuse wouldn't work with me.

I unsheathed my sword. It had a very thin blade, measuring 2 1/2 feet in length, two inches in width at the base leading to a sharp point and less than half an inch in thickness at the base. The cross-guard had a pretty design, as befitting a sword for a girl. It had an amethyst placed inside the rain-guard with the Metrune coat of arms drawn inside, using a method of production that was only known to me.

I know it's flashy, but I deserve to have nice things by now.

I placed the tip of the sharp sword under the chin of one of the black-clothed pirates and pushed it up so his eyes looked straight at my face. He was the oldest of the three, probably in his twenties. The other two looked like they weren’t even a day over 15.

"You have a choice, scum," I said, "Die horribly or serve me."

He spat at me, despite having a sword at his throat. Gani managed to shield me from his spit with his own hand as the pirate cried, "I'd rather die horribly than to serve a noble bitch."

I see, still not giving up.

"Gani, mess him up," I said as I pulled back my sword.

"With pleasure, my lady," Gani said before he sliced the pirate's windpipe with his sword. Obviously it was a quick death.

"Gani..."

"Yes, my lady?"

"Did I accidentally say 'mess my ship up with his blood'?"

"No, my lady, you said mess him up."

"I see, then WHY BY THE ANCESTORS DID YOU KILL HIM?"

"But he already refused you and chose to die, didn't he? He also insulted you."

"You could’ve just beat him up a little, you idiot!" I smacked him in the back of the head, "People can change with enough motivation!"

"Please forgive my stupidity, my lady. I still have a lot to learn," Gani bowed sincerely.

"Obviously! Oh well, what's done is done. You!" I pointed my sword at the remaining two black clothed pirates. "Obviously Gani doesn't mind killing you for me, so choose, death or serve?"

"Serve!" both of them answered at once.

"Mr. Lustri, I leave them in your hands."

"As you wish, captain," Mr. Lustri said as he had the two pirates taken away.

As for the rest of them...

"You are the captain?" I asked with my sword hanging limply on my side.

"I am the captain of the Stare Viper pirates. What of it?"

"How long have you been captain?"

"Long enough."

"How many ships have you attacked?"

"We have a good piracy record."

"How many exactly?"

"Why would you want to know?"

"Curiosity?"

"I killed enough people and stole enough goods to feed my family and my crew's family. If you want to execute me, go ahead. I have been well prepared for this."

"Oh? So you don't mind dying?"

"Hearing a death threat from a 10 year old girl feels strange, but I've seen stranger things. You can kill me anytime you want."

"I'm 11."

"What makes you think I care?"

"I can have you beheaded."

"Just do it."

"Why are you not afraid?"

"I knew what I got myself into. I was prepared to receive my punishment if caught. I am caught."

"Don't you care about your crew?"

"They knew what they signed up for."

"Don't you care about the family you left behind?"

"I left them enough to help them survive for a little while. They knew what was at stake. They will survive."

"Won't you beg for your life?"

"Won't you just shut your mouth and just do it?"

I had a good laugh over that reply. The sight of me laughing hard must've shocked everyone on deck. For some reason, his reply really tickled me.

When I recovered, I asked him a different question. "Don't you want a real ship?"

"Huh?" he looked confused at my question.

"Instead of those small, fragile longboats, don't you want a real ship so that you can rob all those rich nobles and merchants?"

"I don't..."

"Do you like my ship?"

"My lady!"

The pirate captain looked utterly confused.

"Would you like to captain a ship like this?"

"My lady!"

"Quiet, Gani."

I could tell the pirate captain was trying to restrain himself. He was biting his lip and sweating. I could tell he was starting to be swayed by my words; men like big toys after all.

"Of course I'm not giving you this ship. It's a warship after all. What would I do if you use it against me? But I may be able to give you something close to this."

"Would you like to rob the rich nobles with a ship like this? Of course, it's only half this size, but it will still be pretty big, won't it?"

"And what do you get from this?" the pirate captain looked at me with eyes full of distrust.

"Honestly? I'm in it for research purposes. I guess you can also say that it's kind of amusing."

"What?"

"You can raid as many Surfesian ships as you want. If you can get away with raiding their towns too, go ahead. What I want are battle reports. I want to see how well my ship performs in battle. I also want to know the strategies you use with my ship and how it works for you."

"We can raid as much as we want? You won't ask for any cut of the profit?"

"Ah, now that you mention it, I'll be expecting one tenth of the spoils. It's fair, I think, since I'm allowing you to use my ship for free. Do try however to conduct yourselves in a chivalrous manner. That means avoid killing peasants unnecessarily and definitely do not rape the women and children."

"A ship like this will need to be maintained at a port, we don't have a port of our own."

"Don't worry, what kind of idiot do you think I am? Of course I'll open my port to you. Just make sure that you're not docking at my port with the identity of river pirates."

The pirates and their captain whispered with each other. I have heard that pirates actually run a democracy instead of tyranny, but this is the first time I've seen it in action.

"If the ship is as good as you say, my lady, then we shall accept your offer."

"Is that so? Then come kneel at my feet, captain."

He did as told, as did the rest of his crew.

I put the sword in my hand back into its sheath that hung on my belt. Then I unbuckled the sheath itself from my belt. This was a unique sword. Due to its complexity, I only had the time to forge one, yet...

"Take my Dusk Claw as proof of employment. Show it at the port of Mruna if you are refused docking rights at any time in the future. If you ever decide to quit, return me the sword and the ship and you'll be free from your obligations."

Suddenly I heard whispers from around. Gani who had been quiet, spoke loudly, "My lady, why would you knight a bandit?"

Knight a bandit? Ahh, I see. So by having him kneel and giving him a sword, that means I'm knighting him? Medieval customs are so stuffy.

"I'm not a titled noble. Being knighted by me doesn't give any benefits," I rebuked.

"But, we've followed you for years, my lady. Why is he your first knight?"

Ah right, there's that thing called first knight, second knight and so on. It seems like the title of 'first knight' is very important. Damn it, I guess I've made a faux pas.

"It's not that... ahhh geez. Fine! Kneel before me, Gani."

"Yes my lady," Gani eagerly dropped to his knees in front of me with head downward.

"Will you swear to serve me loyally, obey me unconditionally and protect me with everything you have?"

"Yes of course, my lady. My life shall be in service of you. My loyalty is yours to command."

"Raise your hands, Gani."

He raised his hands higher than his lowered head.

I took out the fully loaded double-barrelled pistol from the pocket of my robe and placed it on his hands. "This shall be your proof of allegiance. If one day you decide to quit, return me this gun and you shall be free from your obligations."

This sounds so pretentious and pompous. I'm embarrassed just saying the words. How can anyone make a career out of this?

"My-my lady!" Gani stammered when he realized what the thing in his hands was.

"What? Are you unsatisfied that you're not getting a sword?"

"But it's your boomstick!"

This is indeed a 'boomstick' of similar design as the one I used in chapter 3. It has two differences, though. The first is that it's designed to be able to handle the stress of nitrocellulose whenever I can find a way to produce nitric acid; I've forgotten all of my high school chemistry lessons. The second difference is that some parts of the wooden handle were replaced with citrine (with the Metrune coat of arms drawn inside) in the effort of making a sturdier, lighter gun. Yes, I know it's useless and there's no noticeable difference in weight, but I deserve to have nice things by now. Guess it's time to make another gun then.

There's also a slot for inserting a bayonet, in cases where melee fighting is inevitable.

"Call it a pistol, its name is Sunset Screamer. Now that I'm unarmed, you have to protect me, understand?"

Not quite. I still have the older Mk VII, but I really liked my Sunset Screamer. I was hoping to hold on to it a while longer.

"Yes! Of course! It is an honour to carry your boomstick and I shall protect you with everything I have, my lady!"

I sighed, suddenly feeling tired.

Seriously, I'm not even a baronet, why does it matter?

"I swear, my lady, that I will ensure your safe return, even at the risk of my own life," Gani said excitedly.

"Umm, thank you, my lady. I shall live in service of you," the pirate captain said as he kissed the sheathed sword.

Gani also kissed the barrel of the pistol.

Should I tell him not to kiss it? One of gunpowder's ingredients is processed poop after all. I wouldn't want to kiss poop, but that's probably just me.

"Hold out your hand, both of you," I said as I reached into the coin pouch at my belt.

With proof of employment still in one hand, they held out their hands. For each of them, I dropped three gold coins.

"That's for you. Do with it as you wish," I said as they looked at the gold with faces of shock.

It was an expected reaction. After all, commoners wouldn’t normally get to see gold coins at all, much less hold three of them in their hands. This ceremony also had never been done in public in recent history, except in cases of battlefield promotions.

Oh, I guess this can indeed be considered a battlefield promotion. The one doing battlefield promotion is often the king or his representative prince, though.

Since I was doing the whole knighting thing, I thought I might as well just go the whole hog. 'Gift of Gold' was a tradition that started way before, during the Imperial Era. The 'Knighting Ceremony' would basically start with the knight candidate performing exemplary deeds, called Gift of Valour. Then he would be granted a sword in a tradition called 'Gift of the Sword', and this was very significant, since only nobles were allowed to carry swords back then. Then, the knight would perform the tradition called 'Gift of the Vow' where he made vows of allegiance to his liege. After that, came the 'Gift of Gold' tradition, where the liege gave him his first income to symbolize that the knight now worked for the liege as well as to buy new equipment befitting his station as a knight.

Of course, that was just symbolic. Knights weren't actually paid in gold; they lived by being granted a 'knight's fee' or 'fief', so many knights ended up keeping their ‘gift of gold’ for many generations. The amount granted depended on the liege's station and wealth. A baron or baronet would normally grant one gold coin. A count would normally grant two or three gold coins. A duke would grant four gold coins. A king would grant any amount of gold he could grab from his pocket, so tough luck for the knight if the king only had one gold coin in his pocket. I chose to give three, the equivalent of a count's knight, because that was the biggest amount I could grab in my hand. I have small hands and those gold coins are big.

As for their knight's fee, if the pirate captain survived our return trip to and from Lytis, I'd give him one of the cogs currently moored at Mruna's port. I have no idea what to give Gani. I mean, my land is rented from my father, so I can't give him land. Giving him another cog would be repetitive, so maybe not. Hmm... I'll just think about it when we return.

Towards Lili, I whispered, "Sorry Lili, I'm out of weapons to knight you with."

"It's fine, my lady. I am already satisfied that I'm allowed to stay with you," Lili whispered back into my ears, her whispering voice sounded so seductive, making me break into cold sweat.

I later had the corpses of the pirates thrown overboard, except for those the pirate captain asked to be handled as soldiers. I agreed. The next morning, we performed a service for the soldiers we lost and the late pirates who served the pirate captain. They were still thrown overboard, but at least they had a lot more respect than the pirates we threw overboard the previous night. Since none of us were Spirit Clansmen, we had to make do with personal prayers and offerings of salt and ash so that they would be able to reincarnate in peace at their own choosing.

That night Lili and I shared the same bed again. No, nothing happened. I just thought I should reward her a little for her good work protecting me and for not making a fuss about not being knighted. When I woke up the next morning, we were in each other's arms. I seriously couldn't remember how it happened.


I think my grammar is all over the place in this chapter. My last editor will cry, I'm sure.
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Ai-chan

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