Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 29

Whenever I moved the pain in my back woke me up, twice in the night Topher reapplied the aloe and by morning I'm feeling sore and bruised but it's not so bad that I can't go about my normal routine. Tallis puts me on light duties and I spend most of the morning tidying the lines on deck.

By the afternoon I'm back aloft, moving a little slower than normal, but all right. When we get a break Tallis jumps over to me, and I know what he wants to talk about before he even opens his mouth.

"Drumeri, why did you assist that brat with his idiotic plan? I can't say I like the man, but attempting to get him punished for something he didn't do isn't the right way to go about things."

I've already decided to tell him the truth now it's all over, I hate him being disappointed in me.

"I didn't, I took some of the blame to try and prevent the Captain from punishing Topher too harshly. That was before I found out he was too young to be given the cat, if I'd have known he was just going to get an ass spanking I wouldn't have bothered."

Tallis looks puzzled. "That's a very noble thing to do for someone you dislike."

I shake my head. "No, I don't dislike him. He's annoying and stubborn but..." I tail off, not sure how to finish my sentence.

"How can you like someone who calls you a monkey?" Tallis questions, his eyes narrowed.

"My closest friend from back...back in Parnell always called me monkey boy, I never minded. She didn't mean it as an insult, and neither does he, really."

"I remain unconvinced." Tallis says. "However you know him better than I, and he did seem to take looking after you seriously yesterday, although he damn well had too seeing as the whole thing was his fault."

"He did apologise too, which was a first for him." I add.

"As well he should, he should have told Quint the truth before you were lashed, that would have been the right thing to do."

"I didn't want him to, and please don't say anything to the Captain either, I don't want him to know I've lied."

About the Jasper business certainly, but also about everything else. If he finds out I've told one lie he may wonder if there are others.

"Your secret is safe with me drumeri, but now you've had a taste of the cat maybe you'll be in less of a hurry to take the blame for others stupidity."

I move a little way along the spar I'm sitting on to get out of the sun, wincing at the sudden pain in my back as I do so. "I don't know how you managed ten lashes, I never want to feel that kind of pain again."

"Many years ago during the Admiral's time I saw a sailor given forty lashes, that was brutal, compared to that ten isn't so bad."

"What did he do to get forty?" I ask.

"He was carrying on with one of Blaise's pets behind his back, and the Admiral didn't take at all kindly to the discovery. Poor bastard got an infection in his wounds and nearly died."

"Was the girl punished too?"

"If I remember correctly she was put off the ship at a port somewhere in the north."

At least that's one thing neither Topher nor I have to worry about.

Twenty four hours later we arrive back at Nightport. Now every time I cross Jasper's path he scowls at me and mutters what sounds like threats under his breath, and I'm glad to be off the ship and back in the Captain's house.

"When do we sail again?" I question him as we're eating a lunch of spicy chicken and rice. I'm getting used to the heat of many of the dishes we eat, but I've still not got Topher's seemingly fireproof mouth, I can see him adding additional hot sauce to his rice.

"In seven days time. There's a coal freighter due from the south that the cartel wants us to intercept." He gives me a meaningful look.

"Oh." I reply, I knew that this would happen sooner or later, and maybe someone from home will be on board to either try and get me back, or get the evidence we were sent out here to collect. If they got my wire they'll know I'm still here, and the thought that I might see Vio or Vin again is a very strange one.

"Is that going to be a problem for you?" Quint asks in a voice that suggests it had better not be.

"No...we won't hurt any of the freighter's crew will we?"

"Did we last time?"

"No, I don't think so." I reply.

"We've no reason to as long as they don't put up any kind of fight, and I'd never expect you to get involved in anything like that anyway."

"He's crap at fighting." Topher decides to add. "He only broke my nose by accident."

"It wasn't broken!" If he brings this up one more time I might be tempted to really break his nose for him.

The Captain shakes his head looking at the two of us. "That subject is now off limits, do you both understand?"

"Yes Captain." We chorus, although Topher pokes his tongue out at me across the table, so I do the same back to him.

Ignoring us Quint changes the subject. "It's my father's seventy fifth birthday soon and he's been organising a party at the town hall, I want you both there with me, but I need you to promise to behave. No arguing, no fighting, no calling anyone a monkey." He looks at Topher. "And most certainly no trying to drug anyone." He almost smiles and I guess he's forgiven us for the Jasper incident. "There are going to be a lot of people there, many of whom you haven't met before and I don't want them to think I let my pets run wild."

"We'll behave." Topher says and I feel a little irritated that he's decided to speak for me, but I can hardly contradict him.

"Good." Quint says. "Give the clothes you want to wear to the maid to make sure they're clean and pressed, the party's in two days, that should give her enough time. And Exit, now that you have some shoes, I'll expect you to wear them."

I wriggle my toes feeling the warm white sand work its way between them.

"Can you swim?" Topher questions me as we stand on the beach.

"Yes, sort of, but I've never done it in the sea." I reply, watching him take his clothes off.

"It's not deep here until you get quite far out, I doubt you'd drown."

"Hmm." I say, but start to undress anyway, the sea does look inviting and I don't have much else to do. Once I've stripped we start to walk towards the water.

"What happens if I get bitten by a fish?" I ask, and he starts to laugh.

"Fish don't bite stupid." He thinks for a moment. "Sharks do though, they can eat you alive."

I am in up to my shins when he says this and I stop. "What do I do if a shark bites me?"

"Die, but one won't, they don't often come in this close to land. We used to have a lot of them in the sea by my home when I was growing up, but people hardly ever got killed by them."

I hope he's right.

We walk out until the water is waist deep, and when Topher begins to swim I copy him. In the Parnell pool the water was always freezing and I hated the feeling of putting my shoulders under, this is nothing like that, it's almost bath temperature and it smells kind of clean and salty, not of eye wateringly strong chlorine. The water stings my back a little, but it quickly passes, in fact Tallis suggested that I go swimming as he says the salt water would help me heal.

Topher swims a little way then flips over onto his back, spreads his arms and legs out and just floats.

"How do you do that?" I ask standing beside him.

"It's easy, you lie on your back, the water does the rest."

I try and end up sitting on the bottom, then come up coughing, I can hear him laughing.

"It's all right for you." I say when I get my breath back. "I wasn't raised by the sea."

"Hmm." He says looking at me. "It could be the tail, but I think you're just being stupid, try again."

I do and the same thing happens.

"I can't do it." I grumble and start to head back to the beach.

"Wait, if you want I'll help." He offers, standing up himself.

He put both arms out in front of him and has me lay across them, so he's supporting my legs and back.

"Be careful." I warn him. "I've still got a lot of bruises."

"I will, now put your arms out beside you and spread your legs, I know you know how to do that." He grins down at me and I ignore the comment.

"What should I do with my tail?" I ask.

"How the fuck should I know, I don't have one." I settle for wrapping it around my right leg. "I'm going to take my arms away now, if you sink this time then you're never going to be able to do it."

I'm fully expecting a mouthful of salt water again, but I stay where I am, floating on my back, eyes half closed against the light, water sloshing by my ears.

I lie for a few minutes enjoying the strangeness of it until I feel a hand gripping my foot.

"What are you doing?" I complain at Topher.

"You were heading toward the deep water, you need to watch out for that, and don't get so relaxed you fall asleep or you'll wake up half way to the mainland. Captain Quint wouldn't be happy with me if I let that happen, he gave me a serious lecture about not getting you into any kind of trouble again. He didn't like having you whipped you know."

"I didn't like being whipped, it fucking hurt, especially when I hadn't done anything and you just got spanked."

"It might not have been as painful, but you have no idea how embarrassing that was, at least you got to have a proper man's punishment on your back, not drop your pants in front of the whole crew."

"Yeah, when I was being beaten by a two and a half foot nine tailed whip all I could think was "I'm so glad no one's looking at my ass"".

"Huh." I hear him grunt.

"You know I noticed quite a few of the other men checking you out, some thought it was funny, but others seemed to be enjoying it in a different way." I add.

"I can't blame them, I do have a very nice ass."

"And a very big head." I can't help saying, although he's right, he does actually have a very nice ass.

I'm not sure how long we stay floating like that, it feels so good I do almost fall asleep and he prods me in the ear with his toe to keep me awake. Eventually I realise the skin on my chest and stomach that doesn't normally see the sun is starting to feel hot and tight, and I really don't want to sunburn my cock.

"I'm getting burnt, I'm going back to the beach." I say.

"Thought you'd got used to the sun." he says sleepily.

"I normally wear a shirt and trousers, some bits haven't."

I try to stand and find that the water is up to my chin, we've drifted quite far out and I tread water heading for the land. "You staying in?" I ask.

"Mmm, I'm going to swim to the rocks." He points to a very small island about half a mile away.

I make my way back to the beach as he splashes out to sea. Back on the sand I dry myself with one of the towels we brought with us and pull my clothes on. My stomach growls and I realise that I'm hungry, I consider going back to the house for a snack but decide to find one of the mango trees instead. There are a few of them dotted around the island and I know there's one near here, the Captain had me climb up to pick some last time we were here together. After a bit of hunting I find it among a cluster of other trees grouped around a clearing. I don't have to go too far up to find the fruit, just higher than human hands can reach, the lower hanging ones being picked regularly by the island's other inhabitants.

I find a ripe looking one and split the skin open with my teeth to get to the flesh inside, sitting on the tree branch with my tail wrapped around to stop me from falling off. It's a messy business eating a mango like this and pretty soon I'm covered in juice. I had never tasted, or even seen one before I came here, I don't think you can get them in Parnell, and they're certainly something I'll miss when I get home. I finish my first one and throw the stone to the ground, maybe it will grow into another mango tree, then climb a little higher up the to get to another particularly good looking one. I am just sinking my teeth into it when I hear voices from below, one I don't recognise but the other sends a jolt of fear through me and I peer down carefully through the leaves to see Jasper talking to a red haired man. I can't hear what they are saying as they are speaking softly but they seem to be having more than a casual chat from the way they moving their hands. It's not an argument, I don't think, but it looks quite intense all the same. The redhead steps back a bit and I see he has a full beard and his hair is plaited into dozens of tiny braids with beads at the ends. I know I've seen him somewhere before and I struggle to recall when then it suddenly hits me. He was the man I saw with Captain Tobias in the town hall that first night I was here when I snuck out to see Vio and look for documents linking the pirates to the cartel. Jasper makes a gesture that looks like he's using an imaginary whip on someone, but doing it with little force, then he does it again, this time brining his hand back and throwing his full strength behind it, it makes me shudder, and the red haired man laugh.

I'm wondering who he is when I see Jasper pull something out of his pocket and hand it to him. It's a small pouch and when the red haired man opens it and tips the contents into his palm I see a flash of metal and realise he's counting a pile of coins back into the bag, he then nods at the Jasper who shakes his hand then leaves. The man waits about five minutes, stands, has a piss against one of the trees, thankfully not the one I'm in, then goes too.

When I'm sure the coast is clear I return to the beach and rinse my hands and face free of sticky dried mango juice. The sun is sitting low in the sky and Topher's clothes have gone so I assume he's headed back to Quint's house, and I set out for there too. I wonder about the man with red braids and think back to the last time I saw him, that leads me on to thinking about the fact that in a few days time we'll be boarding the coal freighter, and if anyone I know is going to be on board. By the time I get back to the house I'm so engrossed in thoughts of Vin, Vio and Parnell I've forgotten all about the strange meeting I saw.

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