Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 35

The sun has set and the room is almost in darkness, I've been trying to get Topher to respond to me for the last five minutes, but all I get from him is silence, I can't even tell if he's still breathing.

"Lottie...is that your name?" I ask the dark haired girl. I get no answer, but try again "Please...please, can you check his pulse or something?" I beg.

"If I touch him our master will know, and punish us." She finally says with the the same lack of emotion as before.

"Sorry." A whisper comes from above me. "She's been here too long, she's just kind of...stopped."

"What's your name?" I ask the blond girl.

"Summer."

"I'm Exit."

"I know, you introduced yourself to us in Captain Quint's house, he's nice isn't he? He doesn't keep you chained up all the time, I wish he was more respectful of our master though, he makes him angry then he takes it out on us."

"Topher's right, Tobias really is a cunt." I mutter to myself.

"You can't say that!" She looks at me shocked.

"How old are you?"

"Fifteen, and so is Lottie, just, but she's been here since she was thirteen though."

I remember what Quint said about Tobias' pets only lasting a year or so.

"How long have you been here?" I question.

"Six months, I think."

Six months with Tobias, how much longer until she's like Lottie? A clanking noise from across the room makes us both look, Topher is shifting in his sleep, his chain is pulling against the bed frame, relief floods through me at knowing he's still alive. I take a look at the padlock attaching me to my chain, it's made if thick iron that only just fits through the ring on the side of my cuff, the one on the other end is the same. I test both locks, they don't move, the bed frame is solid iron too, and bolted down to the floor.

"I don't suppose you happen to have the key?" I say to Summer, raising my wrist.

"The master keeps all the keys." She whispers.

Twenty lashes of the cat, nothing spared, I guess it won't kill us, but it's going to be horrific. I wish Quint had told us that there was some kind of stupid pirate law about pets not fooling around in public, although I don't suppose it occurred to him that Tobias would decide to uphold it. I look at the padlock again, if I had my lock picks I could easily open it, I can picture them lying under the wardrobe in our bedroom, I wish I had them here.

"Do you have something like a pin or a hair grip?" I ask Summer. I was taught how to improvise a lock pick, it doesn't work as well, but right now anything is worth a try.

"No, I wouldn't be allowed that kind of thing."She replies.

Fuck. I sit back and lean against the bed sighing, trying to ignore the ache in my side. Summer shrinks away from me toward the wall, and the bedsprings creak loudly as she moves.

The bedsprings creaking.

The bedsprings!

I put my hand underneath the bed and feel around. It's the cheap sort where the mattress rests directly on the springs, and the springs themselves are just attached to the frame by being poked through small holes in it with their ends bent back to hold them in place.

I lie down and slide underneath, wincing at the pain in my ribs. It's dark but I can just about see what I'm doing. I try to unbend the end of the nearest spring, it's not as easy as it sounds, the metal is hard to grip and the weight of Summer on top doesn't help, and it takes me several attempts to manage it. Once it's hanging off one side it's much easier to get the other side off and I come out from under the bed with a spring in my hand. I straighten the end out and am about to poke it into the keyhole of the padlock when Summer asks me what I'm doing.

"I'm picking the lock so I can escape and go to get help." I tell her.

"You can't do that, the master will be furious if he finds out you've got out of your bonds." Her eyes are wide with fear.

"I have to try, Topher is badly hurt, and I don't want either of us to get the cat tomorrow." I say slipping the end of the spring into the keyhole and jiggling it.

"But the master will punish us." She whispers in anguish.

I look at her and Lottie, then down at Topher lying curled into a ball on the floor.

"Sorry." I say quietly, then go back to attempting to pick the lock. It takes a good half hour of trying until it finally gives and I'm able to get the padlock open and off my cuff. Summer has rolled over to face the wall and I try not to think about what Tobias is going to do to her and Lottie as I begin to regain my freedom. I quickly go over to Topher and check how he is. It's pitch black outside now and between that and his dark skin even with my eyesight I struggle to be able to see the extent of his injuries. I can't feel any blood, either wet or dried on his head, but he does have a painfully large lump on one side. As I run my hands over him searching for any other injuries he opens his eyes and looks at me. "Exit." He mutters. "Stop feeling me up and get back on your side of the bed, I'm trying to sleep."

I can't find anything else wrong with him beyond his head, so I go over and look at the window. The bars are solid and cemented into place, it would be impossible to get out that way, so the only option is the door. I push the straightened end of the bedspring into the keyhole, trying to find the tumblers with it. It takes me another twenty minutes until the last one falls and I pray to the gods that it's not bolted from the outside as well. I turn the knob cautiously and open the door a crack, the hallway outside is empty and I creep out, shutting the door behind me. I consider relocking it but in the end decide it would make little difference, if he decides to come and check on us Tobias will spot I'm missing the second he enters the room anyway.

I can hear voices coming from downstairs so I'm not going down there, I need to find a window I can climb out of. There are five doors leading off the hall, I open one at random, it's a cupboard, that's no good to me. The next one is a bathroom, it has a window but only the top part opens, and it's too narrow for me to get through, I try another one, aware that the longer I spend looking for a way out the more chance I have of being caught. Fortunately this one is a bedroom with a large sash window overlooking the front of the house. I push it open, flinching at the squeak it makes, then climb out. The ledge beyond is wide and has stone mouldings all the way along that act as handholds for me to hang off and survey my route down. Directly below me I can see light spilling out of a window, and judging from the position of the room I guessing it's the main entertaining room so I climb sideways until I'm above a darkened area of the house before I make my descent.

It doesn't take long for me to reach the ground, and once I do I run quickly for the tree cover, my heart thumping. I try to think what to do next, the best course of action would be to find Quint, so I head toward the house as fast as I can, dodging trees and shrubs as I run, attempting to ignore the burning pain in my side and push down my fear of what could happen to Topher if Tobias finds I'm gone.

When I reach the house I find it empty, I tear up the stairs and throw open the door of Quint's room, but he's not there, nor is he anywhere else inside. I run back down and stop in the hall, my mind spinning through my options, he could be on the ship, and if he's not Tallis will most likely be there, but that's the other side of the island, and it would take even me at least ten minutes to get there. The Admiral's house is the closest building to here and possibly Quint's there, so I make a quick decision to head for it. It takes me no time at all to run the short distance to the house and I pound on the door until the little maid opens it.

"How can I help you Sir?" She asks me, and I start to try and explain that I'm looking for Captain Quint when he comes running across the hall behind her.

"One of them is here!" He shouts back over his shoulder as the Admiral comes limping across after him.

"Captain..." I begin, but he interrupts me.

"Are you hurt?" He questions, looking at my face, I guess I have a bruise where Rufus hit me earlier, before I can answer him he asks where Topher is.

"What's going on lad!" The Admiral bellows from half way across the floor at the same time, and I wish that they would just both shut up and let me speak.

"Tobias!" I shout over both of them and they instantly stop talking.

"What's he done?" Quint asks, with a hint of menace in his voice.

"He's got Topher and he had me but I escaped Topher's hurt Tobias hit him on the head and knocked him out and when he came round he was confused and I couldn't stop him falling asleep but he's got no blood on him I don't think but he's chained up and..."

"Why has he got Topher?" Quint asks me levelly. " The pair of you didn't do something stupid again did you?"

"No! We were on the beach and I kissed Topher and the next thing Rufus and Tobias had hold of us then Tobias knocks Topher out and Rufus ties me up and they told me we'd broken the law and need to be punished."

The two men look at each other.

"Quint, did you tell them the rules regarding pets behaviour together?" The Admiral glares at his son.

"Um...no, I neglected to do that. They couldn't stand the sight of each other until recently, it didn't occur they would decide to get physical on the beach in the middle of the afternoon, or if they did Tobias would see them."

"Idiot boy!" The Admiral cuffs his son around the back of the head. "Come on, let's go and get that poor little thing back before Tobias does his worst."

"He's planning to give us twenty lashes of the cat each on his ship tomorrow." I say as we set out toward Tobias' house, much slower than I'd like due to the Admiral.

"Yes, that would make sense, it'd be perfectly legal, except a captain, or pets owner, has the right to punish their own crew member or pet, and that takes president over that of another captain, so we can legitimately take Topher back." The Admiral says.

"We were chained up with his girls, one of them told me he'd punish them if I escaped." I say.

"Sorry boy, unfortunately nothing I can do about that." The Admiral sighs, and I feel very sorry for Lottie and Summer.

"How bad do you think Topher is?" Quint asks me as we approach Tobias' house.

"He's got a large lump on his head, and he's sleepy and confused."

"Concussion." The Admiral adds. "He should be fine, just needs keeping an eye on for a day or so."

As we approach the door I drop back to stand behind the two men, the Admiral thumps on the door with the handle of his stick and after a while it's answered by Rufus.

"Where is my son?" The Admiral asks, his voice pure steel.

Rufus looks at him and Quint, then spots me behind them and his jaw actually drops open.

"I'll go and get him." Rufus says, still staring at me.

"And warn him, I think not." The Admiral pushes past the bearded man and into the house. "TOBIAS!" He shouts at the top of his voice, and I feel my eardrums vibrate. "TOBIAS! COME HERE YOU LITTLE SHIT!"

Tobias enters the hall and stops dead when he sees me. "Tobias, as you can see this one got out, bring the other one down here now, and the gods help you if you do him any more harm." The Admiral roars.

"They broke the law." He says, backing away from his father.

"And Quint will punish them for it, as is his right. Now get Topher down here."

After all this we're still going to punished for something we didn't even know was a crime?

"Rufus, fetch the brat." Tobias orders his first mate, passing him the keys from his pocket, he's swaying a little and I realise that he's most likely drunk.

We stand in silence for a few minutes, every so often Tobias' eyes fix on me, and his face takes on a puzzled expression, he must be wondering how I got out.

Eventually Rufus comes back down dragging a blinking Topher along by the arm, when they get to the bottom he all but pushes Topher toward the Captain, and he stumbles and almost falls until Quint catches him, glaring at Rufus.

"Hello Captain." Topher says thickly, and leans against him for support.

"All right, you got your brat back, now brother, tell me, how are you going to punish them for their rule breaking?"

I look at Quint, who's stroking Topher's back as he struggles to stay upright.

"Exit." He turns to me. "You are banned from wearing shoes unless I tell you otherwise."

I try very hard not to smile at him.

"Topher." He says softly. "Your punishment is to tidy up both your bedroom in the house and your cabin on the ship, and to get rid of everything you don't use."

"Don't like tidying up." He murmurs against the captains chest.

"That's what makes it a punishment." He replies.

"You are fucking pathetic." Tobias sneers at him.

"And you are an evil little shit who doesn't have the sense to leave others people's property alone." Quint says calmly.

"C..." I know what Topher's about to say, and so does the Captain, which is why he clamps his hand over his mouth before he can finish the word.

As we leave Tobias' house it's clear that Topher is having trouble walking in a straight line so Quint picks him up and carries him in his arms.

When we are outside his house Quint thanks his father, and the gratitude in his voice is clear. "It was nothing son, but for the gods sake don't let them do that again, next time he'll flog them on the spot." He limps off in the direction of his home, and we head for ours.

"Is he all right?" I ask, indicating Topher, who seems to have fallen asleep in Quint's arms.

"I think so, I've seen concussion plenty of times before and it normally wears off after a few hours." He lets us into the house, being careful not to loosen his grip on Topher. "But we'd both better keep an eye on him tonight to be sure."

He carries him upstairs and I follow as he goes into his bedroom, he gently lays him on the bed and removes his clothes, then pulls the covers up around him.

"You can sleep in here tonight if you want." He says to me once he's done, and as I take my clothes off he winces.

"What happened to your chest?" He asks.

"Rufus kicked me."

"I am so fucking sorry, this is all my fault." He sighs, coming up behind me and slipping his arm around my non injured side.

"No, it's all Tobias' fault for being a cunt." I reply, leaning into him and letting him kiss me softly on the mouth.

That night we take turns in watching over Topher, one of us on either side of him, with him curled up in the middle, and it's not until the first light of dawn filters through the shutters that I remember I was suppose to visit Vin and Vio in the town hall gaol.

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