This was such a stupid idea. I lay still, trying to slow my breathing. One misplaced pant and I would be caught. I heart the footsteps nearing and my heart beat faster, louder, at least to my own ears. If I moved or shifted in any way the lifeboat would tilt and give me away. The sailor, whoever he was, walked past and I almost sighed in relief. I waited until the only sound I could hear was the waves lapping on the sides of the hull.
Slowly I crept out. Silence was impossible to achieve, with my coordination, but I was as quiet as possible. The Persephone was a gorgeous ship and had a simple layout that allowed me to navigate it with relative ease. I bumbled around a bit until I found the guest quarters. I silently thanked Freddie for offering free drinks to the crew in exchange for stories of times abroad. The ship was deserted, with the exception of the two men on the watch.
I opened the first door, my breath held in anticipation, and smiled at the sight of all the trunks. Jackpot. After a quick glance around, I nicked the lantern off the wall and stepped into the room, closing the door behind me. Holding the lantern high, I noticed that trunks lined every wall. They were held in place by rope which was tied to hooks in the walls. The only space in the room was taken up by two open trunks in the center. The area was only big enough to allow one man room to change, but I was small enough to keep to the sides and curious enough to try climbing around one trunk to see what was inside. I smiled as I examined the loot. This was going to be easy. One entire trunk was full of feathers. They weren’t the short kind found on birds from Rynia. These were fine, expensive plumes from the rare birds of Alorca, the island Rynia had been at war over for ten years. Alorca was rumored to be the most beautiful and have the most exotic of everything. Birds included. And these were beautiful. There were shades of every color. I reached out and stroked one, aware that my fingers were filthy. They were so soft; it was worth it.
I pulled myself back and looked into the other trunk. It was full of clothes. I shifted a pair of horrendous yellow hose and a piece of red caught my eye. I grabbed it gingerly and could only stare at the envelope. The handwriting that addressed it to a ‘Prince Nestor’ was all too familiar. I swallowed convulsively. I looked back toward the door and listened, but I heard no one. Carefully I inched the crisp white stationary out of the envelope and read the invitation. A roaring filled my ears as I read and I have no idea how much time passed before I heard the footsteps tramping toward me. A loud, whiny voice accompanied the tramping and my brain began screaming for me to move. A quick glance around told me that there was no place to hide except for the top bunk of the beds provided. I blew out the lantern and gently moved it to an inconspicuous place beside the clothes trunk.
“I must have something that matches.” A nasal voice said almost right outside the door. I scrambled up the ladder and lay flat on the top bunk, grateful that they were nailed to the wall. The door creaked open and two heads appeared in the doorway, illuminated by a lantern that one held.
“Frederick, I told you that I needed to be perfect. The very idea of appearing uncoordinated in front of those sailors. It’s intolerable.” His voice made me wince. Was this Prince Nestor? I hoped not.
“Of course sir. My mistake.” A deep, monotone came from the other man. His servant I presumed.
Leave quickly. I prayed. I clenched my fists tight in frustration as the one I dubbed Nestor began to slowly shift through the feathers trunk. And the invitation crumpled in my sweaty palm. I had to bite my lip to keep from gasping. I looked down at it, but it was too dark to tell what the damage was. Neither of the men below seemed to have heard it, but I wasn’t going to take chances. I slowed my breathing, determined to make myself as invisible as possible.
“Here it is. Come. We’ll make it back in time for a new round I think.” Nestor led the way out and the door closed behind them both, leaving me in the darkness. I wanted to cry. I had almost been caught. If I wasn’t careful going out I would be. I let my eyes adjust, then sat up and carefully climbed down the ladder. I felt my way to the first open trunk and grabbed a fist full of feathers, stuffing them in my sash.
My clothes weren’t exactly clean; I could smell my body odor from the last few days lingering on them, but I wasn’t as bad as Freddie or Scruff. The part of me that was used to being pampered always rebelled at the thought of the layer of dirt that covered me when I lived here. But I couldn’t be picky and still fit in with my family here. They would murder me. So I dealt with the stench and the dirt and the weird looks from passerby’s. I knew that I fit in somewhere, and that was enough for me. For now.
I smoothed out the letter as best as possible and tucked that into the waist band of my pants. I took a moment to revel in the fact that I was wearing them. Normally, I had to wear dresses. I wasn’t allowed the freedom of breeches for even a second back home. Scruff let me wear what I want here. It was a beautiful thing to me.
I listened for a minute before opening the door as quietly as possible. Getting on board the ship had been relatively easy, because I could watch the patterns of the watch and slip on in between the two men’s rounds. Now, though, I was trying to get off and I had no clue where either sailor was. I would have to tread carefully. I closed the door and set off, staying in the shadows as much as possible. This was something I had watched Freddie do multiple times. He was practically a shadow himself, almost invisible, when he wanted to be. I made my way to the deck and waited, crouched by a coil of rope. I couldn’t see who was by the wheel, but if someone was up there they would catch me. So I listened. I closed my eyes and began filtering out all other noise. The waves lapping, the men on the dock, the creak of the ship all went to the back of my head until I came to the noise I was looking for. The footsteps of one of the men. He was a ways from me, so I didn’t need to panic yet. But there was no sign of the other. I opened my eyes and crept along the rail, keeping my eyes on where the deck rose. I almost froze when I saw him, leaning against the wheel, but I kept moving. If he saw me being still wouldn’t help. I sighed in relief when I saw that his eyes were closed. Ten feet to the plank. I would make it. I tiptoed down the plank and nearly burst into tears. I had made it.
“You! Girl! What are ya doin’ there?” I turned and saw an older man coming towards me. He must have seen me come off the ship. I sprinted toward the tavern, intent on getting away.
“Hold on a minute lass! Come back here!”
I heard him behind me and picked up speed, landing on the balls of my feet and pumping my arms forward. There was a large crowd coming out of the tavern, causing me to weave around them. I caught Freddie’s eye and grinned as I zoomed by, moving into the street beyond and toward our make-shift home. I couldn’t hear the man anymore, but I didn’t stop. I couldn’t. I had done it. I had stolen something. I had taken feathers that didn’t belong to me. Blood pumped through my veins, spreading the exhilaration throughout my entire body. I leapt into the air, high on my victory, and kept going. I had never felt more alive than at that moment. I didn’t care that I might be followed, I only cared about getting back. What would they do if they found me anyway? Arrest me? They wouldn’t dare. There was nothing I couldn’t do.