Bella hadn't realized how tired she was until she lay down in her bed. She and Rhea had sat down after they were comfortably on their way, and she had told Rhea everything. In return, Rhea told her that she was the daughter of a pirate and an inn maid, and when her mother died, she found her father's ship and posed as a cabin boy for years. The men on the ship finally discovered she was female, and she had been forced to leave because "Women don't belong on ships, they bring bring bad tidings." Bella had found her after that, and from there she knew the story. After their talk and some light breakfast, Rhea sent Bella into the captain's cabin to sleep.
"You've never stayed up all night in your life," she said forcefully, when Bella tried to refuse, "You need rest if you are ever going to build up the strength required of you to be a pirate."
Bella finally complied, and was pleasantly surprised to find the cabin small, but clean, She curled up on the bed with Rascal by her side, and quickly fell deep asleep.
When she woke, it was midday, and the shoreline behind them had shrunken to a speck. On deck, Rhea was sitting in the captain's chair, and her crew were slumped against the railings of the ship occupying themselves. A few girls were mending holes in their clothing, others playing a card game Bella had never seen before, and one unlucky girl was bend over the railing, retching into the ocean.
"Captan on deck!" Rhea shouted, and all the girls leaped to their feet. Bella blushed, not used to being treated with such reverence.
"Please, don't let me disturb you," she said, and crossed the deck to Rhea as the girls were sitting down. Rhea had pulled a barrel up from below deck, so now there were two seats in the places of honor. Bella sat, running her hands through the short rats nest of her hair. Rhea smiled.
"Let me do that," she said gently, taking Bella scarf and expertly winding it around her head and hair, untangling knots as she did.
"Thanks," Bella said, slightly startled at this more feminine side of Rhea. "I'll do you."
Bella patiently combed out Rhea's long dark hair with her fingers as Rhea filled her in with the details she had missed while she was asleep.
"We're sailing to a larger port a few islands away. There, we will be able to get decent clothes and anything else we might need. Plus, on the time over, i can teach you how to hustle ignorant men out of their fortunes,"
Bella laughed as she tied off the end of the long plait down Rhea's back with a piece of twine. She walked back over to her barrel as Rhea continued talking.
"Theres a small, uninhabited island I know of. We should make that our base. Any girls who don't want to go traveling at the moment could stay there. We would get funds by stealing, but only what we need and only from the people who deserve it." Rhea was smiling with a far off look in her eyes. The readiness of her plans and the wistful tones in her voice made Bella believe she had been nursing her dream for a long time.
"It must have been difficult, being so isolated from everyone around you," Bella thought to herself, suddenly realizing that Rhea had led a life even lonelier than Bella's previous life, something she didn't think was possible until today.
"We'll take in any girls who want to leave their lives behind," Rhea continued, "We can travel from port to port, and if we ever find kidnappers again, we know exactly what to do. We can live off gambling winnings and landing taxes at our port. Think about it, Bells, we are going to be queens!"
Bella laughed. Rhea might be a good fighter, but she did not understand how money worked. It would cost a small fortune to build a new port, and would take years before there were regular visitor and trade.
"Come on, I'll teach you how to take pompous limeys for all they're worth," Rhea said, and Bella grinned at the prospect. "We'll be at port in five or so days, so there is plenty of time for you to learn a few tricks."
Rhea pulled a pack of cards from her waistband and handed them to Bella. She had never played before, even in her rebellious childhood she had steered away from gamblers. They could be a violent lot, and not safe for a young, unarmed and innocent girl.
"I am neither unarmed nor innocent anymore," Bella reminded herself, "and my youth will help me convince them of my ignorance."
Bella spend the rest of the afternoon learning faro and poker, names she had heard regularly, but had never been brave enough to learn. After a few hours, she had the basics of both games, and Rhea put the cards back in her belt.
"That's enough for now," Rhea said "We don't want to confuse you. Dinnertime!" She yelled the last word, and soon the crew had joined them on the deck, milling around eagerly, waiting for food. Danielle, a small french girl, had been appointed cook because of her previous position of assistant chef in a French nobles house. She had made a thick onion and beef stew, and she passed out a hard biscuit to help mop up the liquid. Everyone ate eagerly, the food was delicious and they were starving from a day of hard work. After the sun went down, everyone helped clean up the ship, including Rhea and Bella, before they tied the wheel for the night and went to sleep. From her bed, Bella could hear Rascal up on deck, catching his dinner from the abundance of rats that lived on the ship. The rocking motion of the waves lulled Bella to sleep, along with the sound of Rhea's gentle snores next to her. She slept fitfully, dreaming of her stepmother screaming and throwing things at her, eventually advancing on her and shaking Bella until her ears rang. Bella reached for her sword, but in its place she found only her embroidery needle, and she fell to her knees sobbing, before a particularly large wave jolted her back into consciousness. She slipped out of bed quietly and padded up to the deck on bare feet. For an hour she sat in the captain's chair and watched the sun rise with Rascal on her lap. Once she heard the crew beginning to stir below, she went back to the captain's cabin and woke Rhea, dressed and brushed her hair, and climbed back on deck to face the day.
Breakfast was more of the hard biscuit and some strips of dried pork. Danielle made coffee and tea, and once everyone was nourished, the day began. Rhea had assigned everyone a different station. Rowan and a few other ex-slaves were stationed at the main sails, their arms were strong enough to pull and ropes and lift the heavy fabric. Willow, the wispy girl who had volunteered second, and her sister who was equally as small, climbed the riggings and kept lookout in the crows nest. Rhea was at the tiller, and Bella was in charge of making sure everyone was well taken care of.
While everyone else was sailing, Bella mended the clothing and began working on a project she hoped would add to their credibility. After the ship was set on course, Rhea taught mandatory fighting lessons on deck. An hour and a half of sweating and swinging fake wooden sword later, Danielle appeared with drinks and the offer to begin teaching everyone french. Bella and Rhea thought it was a wonderful idea, and the mornings lessons began. After french, Bella taught the crew how to read, for none were as literate as she. After reading was lunch, the cleaning the ship again. Rhea insisted it was kept in perfect condition, since their lives depended on her seaworthiness. The cleaning and repair work took a good two hours, and during the heat of the afternoon, Rhea and Bella let the girls go and do as they wished. Many practiced the lessons that they had learned in the morning, while others played cards or took naps.
Bella herself practiced cards and slight of hand with Rhea. After yesterdays lesson, she understood how to play well enough, today was focused on winning consistently. Rhea could cheat with the best of them, and after a few hours of practice, Bella was confident that she could beat any boneheaded sailor that would try to play her.
When the sun was threatening to touch the horizon, Danielle brought out dinner and everyone ate with gusto. Lanterns were lit and girls sat around talking and giggling. Rhea held a class on winning at cards, which everyone thoroughly enjoyed. During the time after dinner, Bella had counted and inventoried all the goods on the ship. There was more gold than they originally thought, enough to buy any supplies they needed. Bella set aside half for the ships own treasury, and the other half she divided equally among all the girls, telling them this was their starter money and to spend it wisely. Rhea taught everyone how to gamble intelligently, always betting enough to spike male egos but never enough to break them if they lost. Bella taught them how to manage their money and prioritize spending. Each girl had over twenty flowers to their name, more than some people made in a year. Bella and Rhea had extra from the previous captain's personal store.
When the moon had fully risen, lanterns were put out and everyone went inside to sleep. Bella fell asleep faster than she expected, and her dreams were just as troubling as the night before.