The log clonked in the flames and orange sparks danced into the cool night air. I wrapped my cloak tighter and poked at the sizzling wood with a stick. A twig snapped and little rivers of eerie sensation flowed down my spine. The sound came from the other side of the clearing, just beyond the trees. With the sharpened stick raised like a cutlass, I melted into the thicket behind me and waited for a snarling coyote or a vicious marauder to appear.
A minute dragged by with only the pop and spit of the campfire. I stared at the other side of the clearing through the drifting smoke. The darkness made me jumpy. Maybe the memory of the Captain Treihard’s orders just before he stomped off with the flintlock made me nervous. My fingers closed over the sheath of my dirk and rode up to the smooth pearl handle. Without the flintlock, how would I fight off a mountain lion or a bear?
I crept back to the fire. If the bilge-drinking, wharf rat captain thought I’d become submissive by leaving me in the middle of nowhere without the proper weapons, he could think again. If I ended up dead because of a wolf or a lion, I’d kill him.
“It is your turn to cook supper tonight. Do it,” he had ordered. He’d tossed down an armful of weeds and stocked off into the evening shadows. At least an hour, maybe two, had passed without any sign of the preening princock. My stomach grumbled.
The weeds appeared to be wilting. A closer look revealed the yellow flowers of the dandelions looked fine, but the leaves and stocks sagged. The milkweed didn’t look very good either. My toe nudged the pack he’d left by the fire. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to get out the pan. That wouldn’t be like giving in, it would just be smart. Somewhere in the distance a little spring gurgled toward the river, but I’d be a fool to try to find my way to it in the dark. I pulled out the heavy, cast iron skillet, set it down, and sat on a squatty rock, willing the pan fill itself with water.
How hard could it be to cook? I could do it. And it would show my mother’s cook that I wasn’t a “dangerous accident waiting to happen.” I glanced around the clearing and up into the trees. Certainly I wouldn’t set fire to anything this time. But I still had no intention of trying to find the stream. Snakes liked streams and so did wild animals.
I moved the pan to the edge of the fire and tossed in the weeds. Some hung over the edge and began to roast. Roasted dandelion and milkweed sounded better than boiled. I jiggled the pan a little, smiling. Cooking wasn’t so hard. And maybe I’d eat it all and when the good captain came back—if he ever came back—there’d be nothing left for him and wouldn’t he be sorry.
Another twig snapped. It definitely came from the trees at the far side of the clearing. My breathing slowed and my hand slid my dirk out and gripped the handle. Another snap, this time closer. I straightened away from the fire with my dirk in one hand and the sharp stick in the other. Running wouldn’t help. A wild animal could run faster. Whatever crunched toward me no longer bothered with stealth.
The captain stepped into the clearing, the flintlock in his belt and a dead rabbit dangling from a rope. His eyes glittered in the firelight.
I dropped the stick and spread my hand over my chest, sucking in a couple of breaths. Relief converted to anger. I slipped the dirk back into the sheath, folded my arms, and glared. “So, you decided to come back."
He raised an eyebrow and sent me a cocky smile, holding up the rabbit. “I didn’t leave you. I was hunting.”
I snorted. “Well, it took you long enough.”
His gaze drifted to the fire and his smile broadened into a grin. “And I see you decided to cook after all.”
My shoulders slumped. Now he’d think he won and there’d be no peace. He’d continue to order me around like we were still on the ship. His chuckle set my teeth grinding.
“I told you it was easy,” he said. His eyes focused on the fire and his grin disappeared.
My gaze followed his to the pan just as the weeds burst into flame.