Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 21

A cheer goes up across the ship when Nightport is sighted, and preparations for docking begin. "Well drumeri, you survived your first voyage, albeit a short one." Tallis says, looking out across the sea towards the island with his telescope. He's moving a little slower than he was before he got the cat, and every so often he stops and winces, but other than that he seems the same as before. "You need to try and remember all I've taught you for next time we sail, I will not be so soft on you then."

Soft! He's had me working harder than I thought possible. My body is starting to adjust though, my muscles no longer ache the way they did in the first few days, the palms of my hands are hardening like those of the other crew members, and I'm no longer sunburned. My skin is getting darker, at least in the exposed areas, pretty soon I'll be the same colour as Tallis.

It's taken us two extra days to reach home as the storm blew us off course and the calm afterwards made for slow sailing. Once we've docked those who are leaving do so, about half the crew are staying on board to clean and repair The Firebrat, or simply because they have no where else to go, and Tallis is among them.

"I have a small house on the mainland." He explains to me. "I go there for a few weeks every year, but the rest of the time I live on the ship."

The captain has some business to finish up on board but he has Topher and me return to the house together, promising he'll be along later. He's also sent word ahead for the maid to heat the bath water.

"I really need a bath." I complain as we walk along the track.

"Yes, I know, I share a cabin with you."

"It's my turn to have the water first." I say, ignoring his comment.

"No. I've lived here much longer, I take priority."

"Bullshit!" I come back.

"You're all dirty, I don't want to get in after you, look at your feet, they're black."

"It's the tar off the ropes." I say defensively.

"I don't give a crap what it is, I don't want to bathe in monkey dirt."

"How about if I wash my feet in the sink first?" I suggest, I hate to agree with him but they are filthy, I'm not sure I want to be in a bath with them the way they look.

"Still no."

"How about if I beat you home." I say, and start to run.

"You shit!" I hear him shout from behind, I know he can't outrun me, I can move way faster than him, and the only things I'm carrying are some of my clothes and a toothbrush. He has a large bag filled with the gods know what slung around his shoulders.

I sprint up to the house and fling open the door, the maid gives me a startled look as I dash past her up the stairs and run into the bathroom. I strip my clothes off as fast as I can and stick one of my feet in the sink, run cold water over it and start scrubbing it with a bar of soap, I hear the door downstairs open, followed by the clatter of Topher's feet on the wooden steps. I swiftly wash the other foot, dripping water all over the floor as I do so. The general dirt has come off, but most of the tar is still stuck, I'm trying to rub it off with my fingers as the bathroom door opens, I should have locked the damn thing.

"That's my bath, monkey!" He pants, dropping his bag on the floor and pulling his shoes off.

"Too late." I shout in victory as I splashily get in.

He continues to wriggle out of his clothes, and when he's naked he stands by the bath side and glares at me.

"I think I'll stay in here a good long time." I say picking up the soap. "In fact I think the water will most likely be cold by the time I get out."

"No way." Topher says, and then does the last thing I expect him to do, he climbs into the bath as well.

"Get out!" I shout at him as he settles down at the other end, I have to pull my legs toward me to stop him from sitting on them.

"No, you get out." He gives me a challenging stare.

Neither of us are that large but the tub is not meant for two people and water is slopping over the sides. We sit and glare at each other for a few moments, until we both realise we've reached stale mate. I give up and start washing.

"You're taking up all the space." He grumbles.

"You're in my bath, you didn't have to get in." I say soaping myself.

He is scrunched up with his knees almost under his chin, but I'm not about to give him any more room. He tries to push my legs back with his feet, but his strength is no match for mine, and he ends up slipping and causing a small tidal wave.

He sits up again shaking water from his hair, and I wash my tail, watching him calmly.

"That thing is weird." He points at it.

"It's not a thing it's a tail." I say, rinsing it off.

"It's weird."

"Do you want the soap?" I offer now I'm done with it.

"Yes, about time." He takes it off me and I lie back. I suppose I could get out now but it's more fun to stay in here and annoy him.

"What's it like having a tail?" He asks, rubbing the soap between his hands.

I shrug. "What's it like not having one?"

"Normal." He replies.

I laugh. "You might not have a tail, but I wouldn't exactly call you normal."

"I am perfectly normal!" He protests.

I could point out all the ways he's less than normal, but I don't want to start another fist fight, especially not in the bath.

He's washing his hair so he doesn't notice, but I hear what sounds like the captains voice coming from outside the room, and it seems to be saying "What the fuck?"

The door opens and he comes in. "Well that explains why there's a puddle on the landing." I look over the side of the bath, the floor is covered in water and it has run under the door. "Not that I'm complaining, but why are you two in the bath together?"

We both try to tell him at the same time. "That makes perfect sense." He says sarcastically when we are done. "Once you are out and dressed I want the pair of you to mop up this mess." He gestures to the wet floor.

"Yes captain." We say, glaring at each other.

"Exit, where are your shoes?" The captain asks, looking at my bare feet.

"I've only got a pair of boots, and they're back on the ship." I reply.

I'm dressed in my smartest shirt and trousers in preparation for a visit to Captain Quint's father, Admiral Blaise.

He sighs. "Topher, do you have a pair he can borrow?"

"No I do not, I don't want his big mon...." We both look at him. "His big feet in my shoes." He finishes.

"Are they really that much larger?" Quint asks looking down. I put my bare foot next to Topher's shod one, there's no way I'd fit into his shoes.

"Small feet." I say meaningfully, and he gives me a dirty look. Although it's a pretty pointless comment, we've both seen each other naked enough times to know theirs no real difference in that department.

"Maybe he could wear some of yours Captain?" Topher suggests.

"I suppose he'll have to, I don't want the admiral thinking I'm like my brother." And with that he disappears back upstairs to find some shoes for me.

"What did he mean by that?" I ask Topher when the Captain's out of earshot.

"Tobias keeps his pets dressed in really old clothes, I've never seen them wear shoes, and he hardly lets them eat anything either."

"Why?" I say shocked.

"Because he's a cunt."

Quint comes back down with a pair of black brogues and some socks. "Those should do." He says passing them to me.

It feels really strange to be wearing shoes again, and I'm very aware of them as we walk the short distance to the large white house the admiral lives in.

The Captain knocks on the door and it's swiftly answered by a young woman dressed in a rather short and frilly maid's uniform.

"Good afternoon Captain Quint." She bobs a curtsy at him. "Admiral Blaise is in the blue room if you please."

"Thank you Sukey." He says and leads us through the door. The inside is just as grand as the outside, we walk in through a large hallway with a sweeping marble staircase, at the bottom of which is a huge painting of The Firebrat on stormy seas, her sails full under moonlight. We follow Quint across the hall and into a large reception room. I can see why it's called the blue room, the walls, curtains and rugs are all in different shades of it, and seated in a large deep blue leather wing back chair is a man who can only be the admiral.

He looks to be in his seventies, he has thick grey hair tied back in a tail like Quint's, a short grey beard covers the lower half of his face, and even with that I can see he doesn't look much like his son. His skin is paler, but leathery, and his eyes are steel under bushy brows. His features are blunter, with a broad jaw and a large nose, although even sitting down it's obvious that he's tall like Quint, but bulky where his son is lean muscle.

He has one leg stretched out on a blue footstool in front of him and a sturdy looking walking stick is resting by his chair arm. As soon as he sees us he grabs for it and starts to try and stand up.

"Quint! My boy!" He exclaims loudly in our direction. He appears to be struggling to rise, and he turns to address a woman I hadn't noticed before.

"Help me up Teena will you, damn it!" She scuttles over to support him as he lifts himself. She doesn't look very old, her hair is a mass of auburn curls, and her freckled face is pretty without being beautiful. I wonder if she's his third wife that Topher told me about.

He manages to stand with her assistance, limps over to us leaning heavily on his stick and pulls the captain into a hug with his free arm, then steps back to look at his son. "Heard you had a little trouble with the job, lost a man."

Quint doesn't correct him but replies. "Yes, it was strange, as if they had been warned we were coming."

"Slippery bastards, the lot of them. In the old days we would have just said hang it and do what we liked, but this is a new world. I'm glad my grandfather didn't live to see the day us pirates were at the beck and call of the cartel."

He then seems to notice Topher and me for the first time.

"Ah, hello little prince." He says patting Topher's cheek affectionately. "I hope you've been keeping my boy satisfied."

"Yes admiral." He replies, and I briefly enjoy the sight of Topher looking uncomfortable. It lasts until the admiral looks at me.

"Fadilla told me you'd got a new one." He addresses Quint. "But she didn't say he was one of those." He steps towards me and looks me up and down, standing slightly too close.

"I used to have one, do you remember?" He asks his son, but doesn't bother to wait for a reply. "Pretty thing, girl of course. Tiny, but went like the clappers, strong legs you see. Can't for the life of me remember what happened to her, was she the one eaten by a shark?"

"No that was Flora, I won't forget that incident in a hurry. I never knew you had an echoback pet, must have been before my time."

"Ah well, as you get older the years all become one. So new boy, what's your name?"

"Exit." I say, wishing he'd stand a bit further away.

"Interesting." He turns to Quint again. "You tried him out yet?"

I really hope he's talking about sailing.

"Yes." The captain says, then adds quickly. "Did you also hear we ran into a storm? No major damage but the crew are giving her a good check over while we're docked just in case."

"Good lad, I love that ship like my own child." He says to the room in general. "Now, has he had a history lesson yet?" The admiral asks Quint, pointing to me.

"No, there hasn't been time, he's been busy learning to sail under Tallis."

"Just make sure Tallis doesn't pass his bad habits on. No respect that one, but still just about the best damn sailor I ever had. Now here I am half crippled and getting closer to the grave every day, and he's still going, be the same for you eh?"

I think he's talking to me. "Yes Admiral." I reply.

"Good good. I've arranged for us to have tea in the rose room, if you would like to get yourselves down there I'll take young Exit along to the portrait gallery, let him know all about our illustrious past. We'll join you soon, don't eat all the cake."

Admiral Blaise pulls himself slowly up the staircase, him leaning on his stick on one side and the bannister on the other.

"Lost a leg you see, few years back, decided it was time after that to let my lad take over, knew he was ready. Below the knee thank the gods, makes it easier to walk, this bits wood." He taps his shin with his stick, it makes a knocking sound. "Then bugger me but gout went and set in in the other one, damn near useless now." He stops for a moment to get his breath, then carries on. "The pirating is best left to my sons these days, I had many good years, man and boy, do you like the ship?"

"Yes, it's not like anything I've sailed on before." I say truthfully.

"Her, boy, her. A ship is a woman, never forget that. Just like a woman sometimes she needs a gentle hand, and sometimes a firm one, and woe betide you if you get it wrong."

At the top of the staircase we turn left into a long room. One side is all windows facing the sea, the other is hung with over a dozen portraits. He points at the first one we come to, it's of a fierce looking man dressed all in black standing on the deck of a ship with a cloudy sky behind him.

"That's my grandfather, the first admiral. He settled these islands and built this house nigh on a hundred years ago. He was a proper pirate, none of this privateering nonsense we're reduced to today."

He moves slowly down the line, pointing out various relatives and ships until we come to one of a beautiful young dark skinned woman in a white silk dress.

"That was my Cora, mother of my children and the greatest beauty ever seen on these islands." He says sadly. I can see the family resemblance between the Captain and her. "She looks like my Quint doesn't she?" He asks.

"Yes." I reply.

"She died giving birth to him you know, gave her life for his. Tobias never forgave him for that, but me? I always felt a little of her soul carried on in him. Thank the gods he got her looks not mine, he's a handsome lad isn't he?"

"Very." I say without hesitation.

"Best thing I ever did taking him out to sea with me when he was just a little thing. Would be nice for him to have a lad of his own to teach, but that's not going to happen if all he ever does is stick it up boys bums is it? Not that I mind he prefers the boys, know plenty of captains that way inclined, not me though, I like a nice round girl." He makes a wavy motion with the hand that's not clutching his stick. "I couldn't do without a good pair of tits, not so bothered about the downstairs bits, cock, pussy, same difference really, as long as there's a hole somewhere, but tits, ah, those I could not live without."

I would quite like the ground to open up and swallow me about now.

We seem to have finished the "history lesson" and are walking slowly back toward the staircase. "I've told him" He carries on. "Get a wife, he can keep his boy pets, it's a captains privilege, but he needs a wife to have children. You know son, that reminds me of the old saying, "a woman is for duty, a boy is for pleasure, but a melon is for ecstasy" you ever heard that?"

"No." I reply puzzled, I like melon, but I don't really see how they could bring ecstasy.

"All right, I'd better get my old carcass back downstairs before the cake is all gone."

We begin our slow descent, if anything he finds going downstairs harder than going up. We reach the bottom eventually, but the effort takes all his concentration so he's mercifully quiet.

The Admiral then leads me along a small corridor and into a very pink dining room with a ceiling of painted roses. Captain Quint, Topher and the girl called Teena are sat drinking tea and eating cake around a large table. I take the free seat next to Topher while the admiral carefully lowers himself into a chair at the head of the table. I'm sitting opposite Teena and as I glance over I notice that her dress is quite low cut, and she's showing off a large amount of ample freckled cleavage. She stands up and serves the Admiral tea and cake, then does the same to me.

"Damn good cake this." The Admiral says through a mouth full, spraying crumbs around.

Back home when I was first told I was going to be coming into contact with pirates I imagined all kinds of things, and none of them were tea and sponge cake in a pink room.

Topher turns to me and asks. "Did you enjoy your history lesson?" With a smirk on his face.

"Yes, thank you." I say politely, ignoring his expression.

"Good boy." The admiral says loudly. "Quint lad, you made a fine choice there, and if he's anything like my little echoback was he'll keep you happy all night too."

I hear Topher snigger beside me as I try busy myself with my teacup and hide under my hair at the same time.

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