The orange tendrils of dawn were lifting across the sky as Black Ethel stretched and then stubbed out the last of her cigar. “Oh la la, we have talked a long time.”
Tired as she was, Lizzie could not conceal her curiosity about the adventure that had brought king and pirate together. “Is it a very long story?”
“Oh, oui, mademoiselle Lizzie,” the pirate queen assured, “It is rather complicated and quite intriguing tale, but it is late -- or rather, very early.” She chuckled quietly and pointed to Alice. “Besides, your young cousin has already fallen asleep.
True enough, Alice had finally succumbed to fatigue despite the exiting tale spun in the captain’s room that night. She would be sorely vexed to be awakened now, but Lizzie was quite practiced at maneuvering Alice in that condition, which took an application of firmness and gentle cajoling in equal parts. While Black Ethel made one last round of her ship, growling at the occasional laggard and clapping a few stalwart lads on the back, Lizzie coaxed Alice out of her much wrinkled day clothes and into one of the night gowns they had received from the kindly pirate queen.
“I know I shall have the most peculiar dreams,” Alice yawned as she collapsed into nearly instantaneous sleep. Lizzie looked down at her young cousin and sighed slightly before pulling the covers up to her shoulders. Alice seemed to pay it no mind, but said groggily, “Mother, please, I don’t want any treacle,” before turning over and beginning to snore softly.
Lizzie smiled and turned to prepare herself for bed as well. Out the window she could see the clear signs of dawn, but she did not care two pins for propriety. If they could be spirited away from her uncle’s funeral, kidnapped twice and caught in the midst of pirates, Lizzie could reconcile sleeping late on a weekday. She thought it was perhaps a weekday, anyway. It was increasingly difficult to be certain.
Lizzie got into bed, glancing over at her cousin and making certain she was safely in Slumberland before she reached once more for the much-read letter secreted as always in her sleeve. But as she ran her eyes over the neatly formed words, they failed to give her the usual thrill she would feel on most occasions.
For the first time Lizzie experienced a twinge of doubt. It wasn’t the king himself, of course. He was sublime. She still found his words stirring, especially when she dared to read between the lines. But for the first time she doubted it would all work out somehow. How could the king find her in the middle of the wild seas? The pirate queen was kindly enough -- far more so than they had any right to expect -- but what were they to do? No one knew where they were; no one might even be looking for them anymore, supposing perhaps they had perished, if not when sold into the white slave trade as had been planned, then certainly once they had boarded a pirate vessel.
Lizzie sat up anxiously, the thoughts preying on her consciousness. What is to become of me? What is to become of us? Will the king forget me before he has had a chance to even make my direct acquaintance. He had letters, a lock of hair -- was it enough to bind her love to him when all hope seemed lost?
Unable to bear the weight of her thoughts, Lizzie sank back to the supine position, tears dampening her pale cheeks. As the sun rose, her hopes fell and she slipped into a fitful slumber.