Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 10

Captain Hyde and most of the crew have encountered the pirates before and know what to expect. They were all told before we sailed that this was likely to happen so the mood on the boat is more "let's get this over with" than anything else.

For the past couple of hours the two ships have pushed us off course, but now they have signalled for us to stop and are preparing to board. The engines are off as there is no need to keep us moving and the stokers are up on deck with everyone else, arms and faces streaked with coal dust. I hadn't realised how used I had got to the constant noise, the silence feels strange.

The crew are mostly silent too, just stood at the rails watching the two ships approaching us. In the lead is a large wooden ship with huge white sails catching the wind, and behind that is a smaller grey gunship, with four evil looking cannons aimed at us. As they get closer I start to see people on board, and am able to read the name of the sailing ship, it's called "The Firebrat" and it has a carved figure at the front. I don't know much about this sort of thing but in all the pictures I've ever seen figureheads are topless women, this is different, it's a daemon, with red skin, curled black horns and blazing orange eyes.

"Fuck." Vio breaths. "They know how to make an entrance." I nod as the wooden ship draws alongside us.

Ropes are thrown across and the freighter's crew grudgingly tie them off, a few of the pirates climb along them and board us. Capitan Hyde steps forward and addresses a very tall, very dark man who seems to be in charge. When I get a good look at him I realise with a start that he only has half a face, the left hand side is normal, but the right hand side has the appearance of melted candle wax. His eye is just an empty socket, his ear a lump of flesh, his lips are twisted out of shape and pulled upwards so his teeth are on display.

"That's one ugly motherfucker." Vio whispers to me and I agree. He shouts out for us to listen to him, his voice is hoarse and his accent strange, he explains that we will not be harmed as long as we do as he commands. The other pirates have set up rope ladders between us and the wooden ship now, and he orders us to climb across. Some of the the pirates train rifles on us as the first sailors begin to scramble over, I'm not sure what they think we might do, most of the crew member are having a hard enough time just staying on the ladders.

When our turn comes I let Vio go ahead of me and try to hold the ladder steady for her, at one point she almost flips over and by the time she makes it to the other side her normally pale skin has gone a shade paler and I can see beads of sweat standing out on her forehead. I cross with no difficulty, although I would prefer it if my tail were out for extra balance.

Once everyone is safely on the ship the pirates search us and tie our hands behind our backs. Vio has her cheroots and matches taken off her, I hope they give them back at some point, she's irritable enough at the best of times, I really don't want to find out what she's like without her smokes. The only thing I have on me are the set of lock picks and as they are only searching pockets there's no chance of them being found.

As the others are being frisked and bound I take a good look at the pirates, they seem to range in age from not much older than me to men with white beards and bald heads. The biggest surprise is that at least three of them are visk, and none of them are wearing robes, instead they have on loose fitting trousers and cotton shirts, I don't think I've ever seen a visk out of robes before and it's a strange sight. All of them are grey brown in colour and one is missing an eye, a bright red patch covering where it should be, odder still one of them seems to be in charge of the men.

While we are being dealt with the ropes and ladders are pulled in, and I hear the sound of the coal ships engines start up again as the pirates who remained on there prepare to sail it off to port to unload the coal.

The visk who's in charge turns to us and speaks. "Say goodbye to your ship for a few days, but don't worry, we'll take good care of her, although she may be a little lighter in the water when you see her again, if you know what I mean."

Some of the sailors shake their heads and mutter, but it's not like we weren't expecting this to happen.

"All right listen up." He addresses us again. "Stand up straight and keep your mouths shut, the captain will be over in a moment to say hello to you."

"He's not our captain." A voice behind me states, and some of the others shush him quickly.

"Are you all right?" Vio whispers to me.

"Fine, you?"

"Yeah, although that fucking ladder almost did for me."

One of the pirates, an old man with a beard and and faded tattoos glares at us, and we keep quite after that.

We wait a little longer, shuffling our feet to keep upright on the swaying ship, it's hard to balance when you have your hands tied behind your back. Finally the visk speaks again, this time not to us but to a man who is approaching from a stairway above us.

"Captain Quint, here are the prisoners from the coal freighter as you requested."

"Thank you Zizi, which one's their captain?"

As the visk gestures to Hyde I take a good look at the pirate captain. He's younger than I would expect, no more then thirty and maybe less than that. He's a little shorter than Vio, which still makes him quite tall although he's not as solidly built as her, but there's a hint of muscle under his black shirt and the way he moves suggests he's in good shape. He has deep caramel skin and his hair is dark brown, worn long and bound back at the nape of his neck with a black ribbon. He is also exceptionally handsome, so much so I find myself unable to stop staring at him, and when he turns round from talking to Captain Hyde I accidentally find myself looking him straight in the eye. He holds my gaze and walks over to me with an expression of curiosity on his face, I can feel Vio tensing beside me and can almost hear her thoughts telling me not to draw attention to myself.

He stands in front of me but instead of speaking he puts his fingers in his mouth and gives out a series of whistles, looking upwards at the sails as he does so. I look up also and I see a figure climbing down towards us, and I can't quite believe what I'm seeing.

"Come here Tallis and look at this." He calls out as the the figure reaches the deck. I may have been staring at Captain Quint before but now my attention is entirely focused on the newcomer. He has blue black hair held back in a long braid, golden eyes, and a tail and is the first other echoback I've ever seen. He walks up to me, smiles and says something to me in a language I don't understand. I look at him in confusion and he repeats the sentence again, this time with an encouraging nod. I realise he's waiting for a reply and I say the only thing that I can think of. "I'm sorry, I don't know what you just said."

It's his turn to look puzzled. "Where are you from?" He asks me.

"Parnell." I reply.

"On the Twin Islands?"

"Yes."

He nods at this but the puzzled expression doesn't leave his face.

The captain rests his hand on the echobacks shoulder and speaks quietly into his ear. He glances at me then gives his captain a long look that I don't understand, but eventually he says. "I can't stop you." Then walks away, jumping to grab hold of a rope he disappears upward again. The captain turns and addresses us all, and I'm left wondering what Tallis can't stop him doing, and if it has anything to do with me.

"Some of you I recognise from previous meetings, but for those of you who don't know who I am, I'm Quint, captain of this ship, The Firebrat, and youngest son of Admiral Blaise, the greatest pirate of our age. None of you will be hurt so long as you don't try anything stupid. We are half a days sailing from our home port, you will be taken there, and put up in our "guest house" while we relive your ship of her cargo." The pirate crew laugh at this as he continues. "We shall then return you to your ship and send you home, no harm done. Except you." He suddenly says pointing to me. "You, I'm keeping."

Everyone suddenly stares at me and I break out in a cold sweat. Vio takes a breath as if she's about to speak, but doesn't, which is probably for the best.

"Zizi." The captain calls out, looking for the visk who was giving out the orders a few moments ago.

"Yes Captain?" He replies, stepping forward.

"Put him in with Topher," He says gesturing at me. "And restrain him, I don't want him trying to escape and getting up the rigging."

"Yes Captain." Zizi says again, then turns to me, indicating that I should follow him.

I take a few steps forward, then turn around to look at Vio. She looks as scared as I've ever seen her, her ice blue eyes are wide and she mouths "be careful" at me.

Zizi notices I'm not moving and he pulls me along by my shirt until I nearly lose my balance. We walk to the other end of the ship and down a short staircase, when we are standing outside a doorway he speaks. "Bunking with Topher, you lucky boy."

I don't know if he's being sarcastic or not and I wonder who Topher is, I hope he's not the man half a face.

Inside is a room not much bigger than my cabin on the other ship, although it looks smaller due to the amount of stuff in it. There are two beds either side of a narrow strip of floor, one is clear except for unmade blankets, however the other one is piled high with clothes, books and all manner of other things.

"What a bloody mess, if I was the captain I'd make him clean up, or throw this lot over the side. I don't know why he has so much stuff."

He orders me not to move then crouches down and searches under the tidier bed.

"Come on, their must be something I can use under here." He mutters to himself.

I can see him examining a number of things but I can't quite tell what they are.

"Ah ha!" He says in triumph, and pulls out what looks like and elongated pair of handcuffs. "This will do."

He unties my hands and slips one end of the manacles over my wrist and snaps it shut, locking it with a key that's protruding from it. He then fastens the other end to an iron ring set into the wall at the head of the bed that I hadn't noticed before, and locks that end also.

"What if I need to pee?" I ask, it's the first thing that springs to mind.

He pulls a chamber pot out out from under the bed. "Use that."

Great.

"Behave yourself or you'll get in trouble." He says as he leaves.

What the hell else can I do locked up like this? The chain is not long enough for me to reach the door so I lie down on the bed and look around me. I notice straight away that there is another ring set into the wall at the other end of the bed, and that the stuff covered bed has the same arrangement.

I assume from Zizi's attitude that all the things belong to the mysterious Topher. Other than the clutter there's not much more to the room apart from a small port hole that lets in a little light.

I close my eyes and try to work out how I'm going to get out of this and I'm wondering if I should try to retrieve the lock picks when the door suddenly opens and a short, skinny boy with very dark skin and a mop of thick jet black hair walks inside, stopping dead as soon as he sees me.

He stares at me for a moment then opens his mouth. "Who the hell are you? And what the fuck are you doing on my bed?"

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