Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 41

I don't get a lot of sleep that night, I'm chained to the bed as is Topher to his, but he doesn't have the added problem constantly feeling like throwing up. I manage not to, just, mostly for his sake. I'd probably feel better if I did but even if I managed to get it into the chamber pot we'd still be stuck with the smell and I can't see anyone letting us out to empty it.

We are in a lot of trouble. Topher tried to argue with Quint that we hadn't done anything that bad, which only made things worse and he threatened to put us off the ship for good, this at least shut Topher up quickly. Our punishment hasn't been decided yet, the cat was ruled out, partly due to Topher's age, and partly because the behaviour of the captain's pets is not really a ship matter, it's between us and Quint.

There was also the issue of Tobias and Rufus being held prisoner to be dealt with as well, so we've been chained up and left in our cabin all night while things got sorted. Now it's morning, I can see daylight through our small porthole and hear the noises of the crew going about their business above us. An unpleasant jolt of fear runs through me when the door opens, I'm expecting Quint, or at least Zizi, but to my surprise it's Tallis.

"The Captain wants you to work as normal." He says, unlocking my wrist from the chain. "Reckons it makes no sense you just sitting in here." I nod, feeling relived, I know it won't affect the severity of my punishment one bit, but it's better than being in here with nothing to do but worry.

"What about me?" Topher asks.

"He didn't say anything about you." Tallis says sharply.

"Can you ask someone to bring me some food and drink?" He requests.

"Boy, no one here is your servant, after all the trouble you've caused you'll be lucky to get anything but hard tack and water ever again."

If he's feeling even as quarter as bad as I am he'll need something to drink sooner of later, and I vow to try and bring him some water when I can. Tallis lets me have breakfast before we set sail, I get a few dirty looks from the crew, and Quint ignores me, but the food at least settles my stomach.

"So that brat's gone and got you into trouble yet again." Tallis says as we help unfurl the sails.

"It wasn't entirely his fault, we were in a bar without windows and we lost track of time. I shouldn't have drunk as much as I did." I shrug.

"Drumeri, I don't fully understand why Quint acted as he did, did he have any reason to think his brother would harm you?"

I spend the next few minutes telling him the events that led up to this, when I'm done he looks at me. "Good gods, I thought he was overreacting but maybe not, Tobias is a seriously unbalanced man."

"What was he doing in Kipp?" I ask.

"Come to meet with Petrovar I think, I know Jasper hitched a lift hoping to catch up with us, I rather wish he hadn't bothered."

So do I, I consider telling Tallis my suspicions over Jasper's involvement with Rufus and the kidnapping, but decide to let it drop for now.

Once we're under way I'm dismayed to notice that the gunship is following behind us, which means that Tobias will be arriving back at the island at the same time as we do. A good steady wind is blowing and things go quiet so I climb down to the deck hoping to get a chance to take Topher something to eat and drink. As I head toward the galley I feel a tap on my shoulder, I turn around to see Jasper's ruined face looking at me.

"What?" I ask, beyond caring.

"Thank you." He says smugly, and I know he's waiting for some kind of reaction from me, but I'm not about to give him one.

"Well, aren't you going to ask me what for?" He says after a few seconds have passed.


"In that case I'll tell you. You've saved me a job, your stupidity has got you in more trouble than I could have imagined. Quint is angrier than I've ever seen him at being humiliated over falsely accusing his brother and Rufus, then having to release them. The only regret I have is that whatever he chooses to do to you won't take place in front of an audience."

"I'm so glad you finally got what you wanted." I say flatly, then walk away. Jasper is the least of my concerns at the moment.

When I get to the galley Clyde regards me suspiciously. "Haven't you already had breakfast?" He asks. "This wouldn't happen to be for a certain cabin mate of yours would it?"

"I got to eat, and he didn't, I don't think that's fair." I reply.

"That's because no one expects you to work a watch on an empty stomach, although I haven't been given any explicit instructions not to let him have anything so here you go." He dishes out a bowl of porridge and hands me a cup of water. "But if anyone asks I thought it was for you, got it?"

"Thanks." I flash him a quick smile then head off to the cabin, hoping nobody is watching.

Topher takes the bowl and mug off me as soon as he sees me, unsurprisingly with no word of thanks, then asks me through a mouthful of porridge if the Captain has said anything about our punishment.

"No, I think he's ignoring me, but I've been told he's still really angry." I decide not to tell him who I heard it from. I watch him shovel a couple more mouthfuls of food in then stand up to go.

"I'd better get back before someone misses me." I say, and I'm about to head out the door when a huge explosion rips through the ship, the noise is a deafening mix of crashing, splintering wood and the whole thing judders and shakes to the extent I end up on the floor. For a few seconds after there is silence, and we look at one another in confusion, then suddenly I hear the sound of all the crew shouting at once.

"What the fuck?" I say, picking myself up.

"I think we might have just been hit by a cannon ball." Topher says, his calm tone of voice betrayed by the wideness of his eyes. "If we are sinking, could you get the Captain to come and unlock me?"

"Will do!" I shout to him as I run out of the door.

On deck out cannons are being readied, and we have indeed been hit by a cannon ball, half the prow is missing, but fortunately above the water line.

"What's going on?" I shout at the nearest crew member.

"That insane fucker Tobias has just fired on us." He replies, I look round and see the gunship ominously close by.

"They're firing again!" The shout goes up all around me, everyone stops and watches in anticipation of the next strike as a muted bang comes from the other ship and a black ball heads straight for us. It hits the aft mast with a crunch, ripping through the sails and taking the spars clean off, but it completes it's arc through the air by splashing harmlessly into the sea on the other side of The Firebrat.

"Cannon's ready Captain!" A shout goes up and Quint is about to give the signal to fire back when Zizi yells for him to hold.

"Look captain!" She points at the gunship and at first I'm unsure what she means, then I see it, they are raising a white flag.

"Are they surrendering?" She wonders, her voice puzzled. "But we haven't fired a single shot."

"I'm ready to fire captain, what should I do?" The man on the cannon asks, holding a lit taper in one hand.

"Don't trust the bastards!" Someone shouts out, to general murmurs of agreement.

"Hold."Quint says, and the crew go silent again, waiting to see if a third shot is coming.

Tallis is peering through his telescope intently, seeming fixed on something. "Capitan." He says, not letting his gaze drop. "I think you'd better come and look at this."

Quint takes the spyglass and trains it where Tallis was looking, and it soon becomes apparent what's drawn his attention. The crew of the gunship have lowered a small boat which is being rowed toward us.

"What the hell's going on?" I hear Zizi say.

It takes a few minutes for the boat to reach us, as it gets closer I can make out its occupants, the two men on the oars are strangers to me but sat between them is the familiar braided haired, red bearded form of Rufus. "It's a trap." Someone behind me says, and the Captain calls for men to fetch the rifles. Once the small boat is along side us a rope ladder is lowered which Rufus climbs slowly and awkwardly up. Close to it's clear he's injured, his shirt is torn, it looks like it's been slashed and is stained red with blood. He also has blood on his hands and once he reaches our deck he sinks to his knees clutching his stomach.

"Keep him covered." Quint commands the men holding the guns.

"What the fuck do you think I'm going to do?" Rufus pants, grimacing in pain. "I can hardly stand."

"Why did you attack us, and is it going to happen again?" The Captain quizzes him, not calling off the guns.

"Why? Because your fucking stupidity of last night finally snapped the few remaining threads of your brothers sanity, that's why. He holed up in his cabin drinking from after you kindly let us go until about half an hour ago, when unknown to any of us he took it into his head to start firing at you. The first I knew about it was when you got hit." He coughs and spits out a mouthful of blood. "Now, I'd have no problem seeing you and your fucking ship sitting on the bottom of the ocean, but not when it could well mean the ship I'm on being sunk too, and only a madman would risk killing Admiral Blaise's favourite son in cold blood. If we survived the old fuck would have us hunted down like dogs, even drowning would be a preferable fate to that." His breath is now coming in short shallow pants. "As you can see Tobias didn't give in without a fight, he gutted two men before I got to him."

"Is he still alive?" Quint asks, his voice little more than a whisper.

"Yes, he's chained up in his cabin." Rufus coughs again and brings up more blood.

"And the rest of the crew?"

"Fine, apart from the two he killed The men are keen to distance themselves from his actions."

"And how bad are your injuries?"

In answer Rufus slowly sits back on his heels and pulls up his shirt. He has three stab wounds in his stomach, all of which are oozing blood.

"Clyde, see to him." The Captain orders. "Everyone else, repair what you can, we need to get home as soon as possible."

"Shit." Topher says as I unlock him from the chain. "I knew he was fucking crazy, but to fire on us? I never guessed he'd do that."

"No one did." I sit on the bed next to him and put my arm around him. In all the drama both Quint and I forgot about him and he's been stuck in here not knowing what's going on for the last hour.

"And that bastard Rufus saved us?" He asks, his tone unbelieving.

"Well, I think he was saving his own skin really. Actually he's very sick, Tobias stabbed him in the stomach and Clyde says he could die."

"Like I fucking care." He spits, it's hard not to share his sentiments.

"So what happens now?" He asks.

"We're all going home, it's the Admirals job to decide what's to be done with Tobias when we get there."

"He'll have him executed." Topher says confidently.

"His own son?"

"He tried to kill us all, what else can the admiral do?"

I shrug, I don't like the idea of execution, even if it is Tobias we are talking about. "One good thing though." I add. "After all this I doubt we'll get punished until we get back back, if we're really lucky the Captain might forget, or let us off. Compared to trying to sink The Firebrat staying out until after dark doesn't really seem so bad." Topher laughs.

"We could suggest he spanks us." I say, remembering the last time he did that to me.

"Mmm, that's not a bad idea." He replies.

"It might cheer him up, he's not happy about all the damage to the ship."

"Is it really bad?" Topher asks.

"There's a big hole in the prow, the daemon has been smashed off, and the aft mast is broken. Though we were lucky in a way, we can still sail and we're not in any real danger of sinking."

"Maybe we shouldn't wait until we get back." Topher sounds thoughtful. "It's going to take at least another day isn't it? He has to take a break sometime, are you on watch?"

"Officially for another hour, yes. I was told to come and let you out but if I don't go soon Tallis will start looking for me."

"When you're done come back, I've got an idea."

"Your ideas always get us into trouble." I point out.

"I don't think this one will."

"What is it?"

"I'll tell you later."

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