She appeared suddenly, and with little fanfare. One moment John’s crew were screaming, cursing the cackling pirates who held their lives in their grimy hands, the next, there was quiet laughter.
The air grew cold and still as that strange quiet laughter cut through and silenced all other voices. Dozens of eyes turned, and looked upon the strange woman sitting atop the railing. She was grinning, pearly teeth flashing like a predators, her dark hair hanging about her in a curtain of loose ringlets. She wore a ragged mourning dress, and a ragged dark coat swayed behind her.
The pirate Captain’s first mate stepped forward and he, unkindly, asked who she was and what she was laughing about. The woman raised her head, and the moment her eyes, those eyes as dark as the sunless depths met ours, we all knew, without hesitation, exactly who she was.
Everyone jerked back as she dropped onto the deck with a thunk. Her dark coat billowed behind her in the wind of a sudden gathering storm as she marched forward, those piercing eyes skipping over all those standing upon the deck. Her black lips stretched in a smile, a smile that promised unimaginable horrors, and John, despite knowing somehow, John couldn’t believe what — or rather who — he was seeing.
Standing before them, was The Blackwater Witch.
A woman said to watch and own the impossibly dark section of water John had stupidly decided to sail. A ghost who sunk ships, regardless or allegiance or cargo, cackling madly as she watched men drown in the dark waters she had claimed as her own. An undead woman dressed in a mourning dress who weaved dark magics, cursing those who challenged her.
A supposedly heartless witch who granted safe passage to children, women, and the occasional man. Though those pardoned men failed to understand and say why they had been spared while their fellow sailors were dragged to the depths. No one understood, but no one was stupid enough to go digging for answers.
John couldn’t believe this was happening. Sure he had heard the stories, spoken by ghastly drunken old sailors in dark corners, but John had never once thought them to be true. She was real?! The Blackwater Witch was real?!
One last time, John wished they had taken the longer way around. John had known the risk, as did all the other sailors who chose to sail through that section of water. But John had never been a superstitious man. The waters there were said to be rough sure, never mind the tales of sunken ships, but he was certain that if you were seasoned enough and clever enough you could make it. Besides, John wasn’t much for superstition, and that’s all he thought of the Blackwater Witch. That she was just as story. So off they went, despite the whispers of curses and of her.
The attack came out of nowhere, one minute they were sailing with minimum trouble, though the strange dark water had been making the men nervous the next the ship was being bombarded by cannon fire. Thankfully it hadn’t damaged the hull enough to sink the ship, but it had given the pirates enough time to hook into the wood and board John’s vessel. John and his crew put up a decent fight, but they were eventually overtaken by the pirates sheer manic energy and superior fighting experience.
Which lead to John kneeling on the blood-splattered deck of his beloved ship, the pirate Captain grinning cruelly down at him with John’s own sword, stained red, pressed against his throat. His remaining crew spitting curses as they were held at sword point, while the women and children John had been fairying wept. John knew he would already be dead, if the Blackwater Witch hadn’t appeared.
He’s still not sure if being alive in her presence was better than having that wretched pirate Captain slit his throat though.
John watched as that idiot first mate stepped closer, and despite his fellows shouting for him to stop, to back off, he reached out to grasp the witch’s wrist. But as he did he startled violently, and as he tugged his arm back, he took with him the woman’s glove.
There was a beat as time seemed to stop. All eyes were wide as they stared down at the woman’s exposed right hand. Bone, black as tar, sat in place of flesh. The Blackwater Witch growled, eyes now glowing a bright and terrible crimson, and that skeletal hand moved. Those blackened bones that should not have functioned at all grasped the pirate’s shirt and jerked him forward, hard enough to make him stumble and bang his knees against the deck.
The sight of that monstrous woman in black leering over the pirate, crimson eyes burning with hatred while her dark lips stretched in a predatory grin almost made John feel sorry for the hell the pirate was about to pay. Almost.
“Did yer mother not teach ya to not touch a lady without her permission?” Blackwater hissed, pressing close to the downed man. John watched, frozen like all the other men and women, and wondered what the penance was for touching the Blackwater Witch without her permission. Let alone removing her glove.
She spoke, the words lost to the now raging wind, and stepped back as blood burst from the mans mouth. The first mate coughed, then dropped to the deck. He did not move again.
We watched in quiet horror as Blackwater slipped her glove back on, humming as she wiggled her hidden bones. John wondered how much of her hidden from view was blackened bone, and then he wondered what the price would be to ask. Then he cast that stupid thought aside. John didn’t really want to know what she’d do to him.
Through his terror and past the rising screams of the crew and pirates alike, John took solace in the fact that the handful of women and children he had been ushering to land would get to live. Blackwater, despite her cruelty, would see them safely to shore. If the stories were to be believed anyway.
The sword that had been at his neck was removed as the pirates scurried back, as if they could escape her. A few raised their weapons, as if they could fight her. Even if they did manage to get to their ship, John knew they would drown all the same. For a moment, John almost felt like smiling at the thought, that these men who killed his crewmates, who would have harmed the women and children under his care, would suffer. The Blackwater Witch would make sure of it.
No longer forced to stay on his knees, John stood just as the dark clouds overhead boomed, the sound leaving the deck trembling in its wake. John rushed to the crowded huddle of his remaining crew and passengers. He ignored the screeching pirates, the bang of pistols, and even the madness of Blackwater’s laughter. John didn’t care what she did with them, he didn’t think knowing how she killed with her wretched magic mattered. He would find out what it felt like to die by her hand soon enough.
Instead, John turned to his people and did his best to keep their eyes on him, though he couldn’t judge the few who kept sneaking glances at the carnage going on behind him. A few of his men outright stared, eyes wide and faces pale. John did what he could to bring these people comfort, insisting with his captain’s authority that the women and children would be safe. That they would go on to the land he had promised to guide them to. A few wept into his chest, and there were so many hands clinging to his coat.
John wept with them, and apologized to his soon-to-be-executed crewmates. As the pirates were killed and the strange storm raged around them, John blubbered with his people and mourned those he had already lost. One of the older men began praying, muttering funeral passages to the trembling men. No one passed blame on John for leading them to their deaths, and John thanked them for their service, for being the best crew he could have asked for. What else could he say?
Eventually, there was silence again. No voices, no screams or laughter, only the spray of the sea against the hull. John felt his men shudder and pull away. The stronger of them stood, ushering the tearful women and their children back as the sound of boots thunking against the hull rose in the air.
John stood and turned, his heart pounding in his ears as he met that manic crimson gaze. The Blackwater Witch hummed, her hands crossed over her chest, and swept that terrible gaze over his men. Standing so close to his executioner, John couldn’t help but notice one odd detail; her coat was two sizes too big.
The Witch’s clothes fit her perfectly, from her slender gloves to her worn knee-high boots, all except for her coat. A coat that seemed cleaner than the rest of her person. John wondered about her coat. Had she stolen it? Killed some poor sailor for it? Was it a tribute? Something someone had given her in the hopes she would spare them?
“It was my husbands coat.” Blackwater said, her voice jerking him back to the present. John was taken aback, for her voice was soft, calmer and sweeter than it had been before. Had John spoken aloud, or was it such a frequent question that she only needed a look to know he was thinking it? Or perhaps she could simply read minds. John watched as she curled her fingers into the sleeves of the coat, eyes downcast and gleaming with a dim glow he was, unfortunately, familiar with.
“I am sorry for your loss.” John said, surprising even himself with his sincerity. He had grown up with only his mother and had met too many widowers not to mean the words every time. Even if he was sharing such a sentiment with his executioner.
Blackwater smiled. It was a kind smile, one that made her eyes shine in a beautiful way. For a moment, John could almost imagine her as another mortal woman, instead of the undead witch she was. What life had she lived before her hauntings? Before the bloodlust and horror? What had she been like? What had her husband been like? John wondered, but did not ask.
John waited, wondering how she would kill him and his men. Men who were frozen and trembling at his side. But nothing happened. No curse or spell fell from Blackwater’s lips, she raised no blade or pistol, and the sea did not rise to claim them. Instead, Blackwater stepped closer, close enough that John John could have stepped on her toes, and placed her left hand against John’s cheek.
It was warm and certainly felt like a flesh hand instead of a skeletal one. Blackwater leaned in close, close enough for John to smell her breath, a scent of saltwater mixed with a strange spice John couldn’t place.
“Yer a good man John.” Blackwater said, and for a second, those dark eyes didn’t seem so cold and cruel. John could see how someone could love someone with eyes like hers. There was a beat, and then Blackwater removed her hand and stepped back, the moment over. Her eyes were cold and powerful again, and she grinned with predatory delight. Then, Blackwater opened her mouth, and spoke in an echoing voice;
“I grant this ship and all it’s passengers, all it’s crew, safe passage through my waters evermore. May the sea be kind to you and yours, Captain John.”
There was a clap of thunder, a last burst of cackling laughter, and then she was gone. Vanishing before John’s eyes.
The storm was gone, as were the pirates and their ship. There was a beat of silence, and then the crew erupted into cheers and tearful and too loud thanks. It took a hour or three, but eventually, John was able to wrangle his crew back to their posts. They sailed away through the now calm dark waters, singing and drunkenly praising the Blackwater Witch all the way till they spotted land. No other attacks came, the water remained calm, and no storm or sea-creature came their way. John and his crew made it to land with no more trouble.
Though John’s crew spoke drunkenly of the encounter, John never said anything on the matter. He never spoke of that moment with the Blackwater Witch. No one would have believed him, outside those who had witnessed it. Why would anyone believe the Blackwater Witch, who cackled and drowned sailors with twisted glee, could be kind or soft.
Perhaps it was better that they thought her a monster incapable of anything less than violence. Perhaps it was better no one asked after the widowed witch who stained her waters dark with the blood of cruel men.