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The Dry Grass Crown

Authors' Note: This originated as a role play between four people. One played Henry, a ship captain down on his luck; one played Raz, a latina girl dressing as a boy to find work; one played Tana, a manipulative stowaway hooker; one played Klang, the ship's mischievous cook. We love feedback! Each section was obviously written by different authors, so we hope it doesn't get too confusing; individual feedback for each character and author is greatly appreciated. ~~ Wolfie (Raz) and Integer (Henry)

And the Journey Begins

Henry

It was a beautiful day for a healthy round of pillaging.

One of the best things about being in port was that there was absolutely no reason to get up; inns didn't have rigging to attend to or wheels to steer. Henry woke up at seven out of force of habit, and went back to sleep out of obstinacy. It wasn't until three hours later that he finally got up; he stumbled out of bed, batting ineffectively at the gnarled mess of his dark gold hair, and struggled into a loose white shirt.

What time had he told the rest of the crew? Oh, right. Ten-thirty. So it was time to hurry.

It always took far too long to brush his hair. When he cut it too short it frizzed offensively; left halfway to shoulder-length as it was, it spent every night plotting against him. Henry spent a good ten minutes- which he didn't have, not with call in a mere half an hour- struggling with it until his curls were relatively neat, and tied it back with a dark green ribbon. He spent a second surveying himself in the mirror; his hair was out of his face, his stubble was long enough to look rakish but short enough to be neat, and his green eyes were flashing appealingly. Satisfied, he headed downstairs.

He stepped out into the street, wrinkling his nose a little at the overbearing scent of shit and garbage. Not that ships were much cleaner, but at least then the sea air could do something to counteract the overpowering stench. Stepping neatly over a gutter, Henry started on his way to the docks. Activity was already buzzing; Henry lost count of the numbers of offers made to him by screaming natives holding out good-luck trinkets, funny-looking hats and strange overgarments. He had better things to deal with.

Halfway to the dock, Henry caught sight of a wanted poster. A smirking, twisted visage was drawn on it in stark black ink; beneath was written a simple message. Henry glanced over it quickly: "Wanted: Nicholas Saint-Pierrot. Notorious Pirate in Violation of the Crown. Reward: 20,000 Gold Pieces."

Henry frowned, and rummaged around in his satchel for his ink pen.

A few seconds later, he left the poster whistling, ignoring the strange looks directed at him. The twisted face behind him now sported a comically large moustache, a pair of crossed eyes and a set of ears the same size and shape as jug handles. Henry's heart swelled with the pride of the just.

He reached The Gold Jennifer a little before 10:30. There was no one else around; he concluded that the rest of the crew was still recovering from hangovers, or perhaps spending a few last, loving moments with an especially excellent prostitute.

Henry frowned, perched himself on a mooring-pole, crossed his legs and prepared for a long wait.

Raz

Raz had woken with the sun, along with the rest of the city, the loud gobbling of the pompous turkey and street vendors stirring him from his typically impenetrable slumber. She had packed her hammock, freshened up in the small back shed, and fetched the eggs and milk for the dueña before placing a kiss on the old woman's dark skin and softly thanking her for the place to stay. She had chuckled in response and, clasping her cheek in her hand, thanked her for the company of a handsome young man - to which she flushed and looked bashfully at the ground. She had mumbled her thanks again, slung her bag across her chest (wincing painfully all the while) and strode out into the bright mid-morning bustle.

While she once considered walking down the street a painful experience, Raz found the experience to be enjoyable in her most recent journey. She was tall for the men of her village but short for the men of the port - the white men - and though her looks were boyish enough, manly would never be an apt way to describe her face, with a strong jaw that was as smooth as a slice of her sword. She began to enjoy the gawks of the passersby, who, in their confusion, decided hate would be the best reaction to Raz; on her walk to the pub, she had already caught two men walk into barrels trying to comprehend the tall native, an old lady spit at her, and three women wink and giggle at her as she nervously pulled at the collar of her shirt, adjusted the bag on her shoulder, and shoved her way into the pub, the heavy door catching her on the way inside.

Her face darkened and she looked around furtively. Nodding assuredly, she clambered up the stool at the bar which she was certain would soon possess a perfectly contoured imprint of her rear. She hooked her ankles, then, as if struck by memory, unhooked them, and spread her legs as though a cannon ball sat between her thighs. A deep, chuckling voice broke through her nerves.

"Just like clockwork!"

A short, thick man slammed a pint in front of the grinning "boy" and clasped their dark hands roughly.

"Diego! Did you get home alright last night, mai?" Raz smirked, nudging the barkeep with her elbow.

"Ay, hombre, don't remind me. The headache this morning was enough. I don't need you and the rooster reminding me first thing in the morning."

Raz simply raised her eyebrows, taking a long drought from the mug before her and wiping her mouth on large, soiled sleeve.

"So," she began, stopping to clear the waver and high pitch of her voice. "So, have you heard any news? Any gringos looking for a laborer?"

For the first time that week, the question brought a twinkle to the barkeep's dark eyes.

"You know what, mai? You just might be in luck. A ship just got in."

Henry

It was ten forty-five, and Henry's crew was still missing. The mild irritation knotting in his gut had turned into a full-blown ball of burning rage in his stomach, and he was now muttering ferocious things under his breath. At ten fifty he pulled out a small notebook and began slashing ferociously through the numbers he'd intended as bonuses for his staff. This was simply unacceptable. What had happened to everyone?

He struggled to remember where his first mate had wandered off to, after the ship had been properly moored and the journey's pay had been meted out. Antonio had mentioned a pub, hadn't he? But Antonio never drank to excess- or if he did, he had the balls to show up with a broad-brimmed hat and a miserable squint. Perhaps he would have to head into the unfortunate side of town, to try to find some of his lost crew members-

Henry looked up at the sound of a woman's scream. Hopping off of the mooring post, he began to run.

It was a short, dark haired woman with a large hooked nose that made him wonder if there was a Kamari somewhere in her ancestry. She was staring down at the dark, oily waters under the pier, covering her mouth with the back of her hand. There was a small crowd gathering around, peering in after her at whatever it was that had attracted her attention; people who had already caught a glimpse were stumbling back, their faces masks of utter shock.

Henry stumbled to the edge of the pier and glanced in, and the entire world stopped.

The worst part, he thought perversely, was that they were all tied together, like paper lanterns on a string. Ten of them, ten dead bodies, bloated and pale-blue and sickly white under their tans. Some were strangled, he could see the marks along their necks; Felipe had a gaping hole in his chest which was too mangled to pinpoint as either a gunshot or a stab wound, while Bar had obviously been shot at close range.

Antonio was the farthest from the shore, bobbing toward sea as if drawn toward Davy Jones' locker. Henry could just make out his hazel eyes staring sightless at the empty sky.

He suppressed the urge to vomit, and soon after the urge to cry. It wasn't becoming of a ship's captain to cry. The crowd around him was still gasping and murmuring, by turns impressed and horrified by the spectacle that greeted them in the early morning. Henry whirled around.

"You think this is funny!" he snapped. The crowd stopped and stared. They were a mixed group, some sailors and some townspeople, drawn together by the grisly sight. Henry bucked his chin up, smiling thinly. "You think this is just entertainment? The deaths of ten men? Hmf. And Governor Islington wonders why he can't keep you lot under control."

A small, dark man near the front stepped forward, his eyes narrowed. "Who do you think you are, foreigner? Haven't seen you 'round these parts-"

"I saw him messing with one of the Governor's wanted signs earlier-"

"I," Henry said with all the dignity he could muster, "am the pirate captain Henry Villeneuve Saint-Pierrot. My crew has just been murdered, and I intend to find out exactly whose throat I need to slit. If any of you-" he gestured at the crowd before him, all of whom were watching him with some degree of bemusement and fear- "find yourselves in need of employment, I would invite you to report to The Gold Jennifer in an hour. In the mean time, I have, er, important business to attend to." He turned around and began to walk briskly in the direction of the city, not daring to look back at the string of bodies he left behind him.

He did have important business to attend to, though it was hard to walk so fast when his insides seemed to have folded in half over the course of what must have been a few minutes. It was a relief when he saw the pub, small and squat and dirty in the middle of a busy street, even more of a relief when he felt at his side and realized that he still had his coin-purse on him.

There was a boy sitting on one of the stools, ready for a drink even this early in the day- mixed-race, sitting like a prize fighter but with a face like a proper landlubber. Ah well, any company was better than nothing, and Henry still hadn't attended to his important business. He sank miserably onto one of the bar stools and held up a single slim finger. "Your strongest, please," he said to the barkeep hoarsely. "As fast as you can manage."

Raz

Raz' eyes followed the barkeep's arm as it set the glass of amber liquid in front of a pale, pinched-faced man. Behind the nausea, she found the man to exude a haughty air - and behind that, perhaps, genuine sadness.

She swiveled on the stool, cleared her throat until she sounded suitably gruff, and addressed him.

"Rough start to your day, sir?"

Henry

Henry's stomach wasn't getting any better with time, but the harsh, burning liquid the barkeep set in front of him helped. He took a deep swig, using it to calm his nerves, and turned to address the speaker.

The boy's voice had a hint of an accent, and blue eyes were watching Henry with some curiosity. Henry wondered vaguely how old he was; he couldn't be too old, not trying so obviously to make himself sound gruffer than he was, but his muscles and demeanor suggested otherwise.

"You have no idea," Henry said, sighing, trying to keep the tremble from his voice. "When I went to bed last night, I had a crew."

Raz

Her delicate eyebrows furrowed in response. It couldn't be... Out of the corner of her eye she caught her friend pausing to clean the filthy tankards with an even filthier rag, his ear turned in their direction.

"May I ask what happened?"

Henry

"I wish I could tell you." The corner of Henry's mouth twitched. "If you want to see for yourself, they're floating in the harbor. God..." He took another drink, adding to the pleasant fire in his belly.

He could say, of course. But even if he was happily on his way to an inebriated state and in the mood for sharing, there were some suspicions which he'd prefer to keep to himself. Instead, he changed the subject. "So, ah, boy... You looking for a job?"

Raz

Suspicions confirmed, Raz turned away from the man, swallowing her beer for the second time. Her eyes fixed on a notch in the wooden bar top and she pinched on the bridge of her nose; she would not cry, she was a man now. To cry in front of her boss -

Her boss. Job.

"Job!" Raz turned brightly to face him, and in the excitement, a feminine voice escaped - while low for a woman, it certainly didn't sound like a man. She coughed heavily to one side, hopefully covering up the panic in her azure eyes.

"Actually, yes. I've been looking for some work. Believe me, whatever you need, I'm your man."

Henry

"Well, I would love to have you aboard the Gold Jennifer, considering the circumstances..." he made an ineffective gesture with his free hand. "Oh- forgot to mention- we leave today, in an hour. The illustrious governor-" Henry let a touch of sarcasm slip into his tone- "wishes me to transport something he assures me-" more sarcasm, there was no such thing as too much sarcasm- "is not several large cases of illegal Rosamundi wine to the satrap of Pavitra."

"And just because my crew is dead..." Henry bit his lip. "Well, can't let that get in the way of a good business proposition. We leave in an hour; a strapping young lad like you, well, I'm sure we can find a position that needs filling, hm?" Henry surveyed the boy out of the side of his eye. He was obviously quite young, to have his voice slip up like that; a runaway, perhaps? His heart warmed in sympathy. His disguise was quite good; but the voice, and the uncomfortable way he sat...

No, he was obviously quite young, and quite unexperienced. And Henry? Henry was fine with that.

"So," he said carefully, "How old did you say you were again? And I don't think I caught your name."

If the boy couldn't bullshit his way through that one, it wasn't worth his time and effort to put up a pretense. Henry took another sip.

Raz

Raz's heart rammed in her chest, with every beat screaming at the man across from her, "Liar. I'm lying. Can't you see?"

But the only acknowledgment of this was a rough beat to the chest. Gripping one knee tightly, she locked eyes with the green eyed man, set her jaw, and stated, "Seventeen in a month. And the name is Raz."

She extended her right hand to the man before her; the hand, while petite, was encrusted with years of dirt and labor-born callouses, and managed to retain its natural softness.

Diego had dropped all pretenses and stood leaning with his hands on the bar, regarding the gringo warily.

Henry

Henry regarded Raz curiously, then grinned, his eyes crinkling at the edges. "Henry Saint-Pierrot at your service. Captain of The Gold Jennifer." He took Raz's hand with his own; despite its slim, aristocratic appearance, the palm was covered with the calluses gained through ship's work, a strange contrast to the perfectly clean nails.

He shook Raz's hand once, firmly, impressed by the boy's grip. He was definitely exaggerating his age; fourteen, perhaps? Old enough to be experienced with hard labor, but young enough to have a cracking voice and to be nervous around those who might find him out. Oh, well. Henry had a soft spot for young runaways; it wouldn't do anyone harm to take Raz on.

Feeling Diego's gaze on him, he nodded courteously to the man and placed a gold piece on the table. "I assume this will cover the tab?"