Skull and Shackles

Interlude: She Chose Poorly

Posted By: Jennifer

“Thank you for doing this,” Feruzi said. “I think everyone would be more than a little distracted if she were on the Crisis during the race.” Ukele flopped into a chair in Pegsworthy’s cabin and glared.

“My pleasure,” Pegsworthy told Feruzi mildly. “The Bonaventure can’t enter the race, anyway. A bit too much damage during some of her recent adventures.”

“You mean, when you were helping us?” Feruzi demanded. Pegsworthy gave her a medium-strength glower.

“You’re going to try and offer some sort of payment, aren’t you.”

“Well, we ARE responsible . . .”

“Hm, no. I am responsible. And I can manage my own repairs, thank you. And I’ll thank you even more not to go implying that it’s charity or lust poisoning or some other nonsense. I may be soft in the head about women but I’ve been managing a ship for nearly as long as you’ve been alive.” Possibly longer, he thought, and isn’t that just the sort of boost your spirits need.

“I didn’t mean to insult you,” Feruzi said.

“Then maybe you shouldn’t look down your nose at everyone,” Ukele sniped.

“I don’t!”

“Ladies, please,” Pegsworthy interrupted. “I’m not insulted. I’m happy to help.” He grinned suddenly. “That and I don’t want you asking me to turn over part of the loot. Apart from everything else, the venture was quite profitable.” He met Feruzi’s eyes while she visibly weighed him up and finally settled on only slightly grudging approval. It was exhausting how slow the process was—particularly given how little time he had to devote to it—but he was learning. Maybe even coming to enjoy it.

“I should go,” Feruzi said, making a slight motion toward the door. Pegsworthy looked down at her hands pointedly and she awkwardly extended one of them. Ukele made a disgusted noise and Feruzi fled like a startled deer.

“I don’t know what you see in her. If she was any more rigid, you could use her for a plank.” Ukele smirked. “She’s already shaped like one, anyway.”

“I take it you’ve given me up for a lost cause, then?”

“You’re as bad as she is. Duty this, honor that. I can see it in your face. So I won’t waste my time.”

Pegsworthy shrugged. “Well, I don’t intend to make your incarceration unpleasant. Feel free to move about the ship. Just don’t try to leave. I gave my word to Feruzi and I intend to keep it.”

“That’s no concern of mine.”

“Then you can wait in the brig for her return. I understand it’s more unpleasant than usual right now, the Bonaventure’s hull being in less than perfect condition. Your choice.”

“And you’ll just believe me if I promise to stay on the ship?”

“I’m a trusting fellow. To a point.”

“Oh, well fine then. I promise.”

“Mm-hmm.” Pegsworthy raised his voice slightly. “Mr. Torkelsen!” the young handsome cleric appeared in the door almost instantly.

“Yes, Captain sir?”

“I’m busy. Show the young lady around the ship for me, will you? But don’t let her out of your sight.”

“You didn’t say anything about a guard!” Ukele protested.

“Mr. Torkelsen isn’t a guard. He’s a scamp.”

“Why, thank you, Captain,” Torkelsen drawled.

“A professional scamp, so I trust him. Mostly. Off you go—and have Pinch send up his report. I need those numbers.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.”

“Enjoy yourselves,” Pegsworthy said, turning back to his charts and books and putting his spectacles on. As Torkelsen turned to leave, he looked up sharply. “Not too much, mind you.”

“Is there even anything to see other than bits of rope and metal?” Ukele asked, following the cleric out of the room. Torkelsen grinned.

“Well, perhaps not as would interest a fine lady such as yerself,” he said. “We usually manage to amuse ourselves. Are ye hungry a’tall? I’m a might peckish meself. Captain says I must have a hollow leg.”

“I don’t know. Is the food any good?”

“Well, I think so, but the Captain says I’d eat an anchor if yer buttered it, so ye’ll have ter judge fer yerself. Course, he ain’t particular, either. I heard Cookie tell about one time tha provisions got so low, ‘e boiled up a coupla dozen rats an’ barnacles an’ the Captain sent down fer seconds. Captain says that were back in tha bad ol’ days, of course, just after they ran away from Andoran but afore they found a place in the Free Captains. We’re pretty flush now an’ tha Captain mostly does what ‘e likes, like chasin’ after that girl ‘o his. Not my type, but there’s no accounting for taste. I like ’em more curvy—like yerself, fer instance.”

Subtle, Ukele thought, but she smiled and let the endless stream of chatter wash over her. It was almost restful, and she noticed that the other crew kept their distance, no doubt having reached their limit of ‘Captain says’ stories. It wasn’t true freedom, but at least she was out in the fresh air and away from Feruzi. With an accommodating fool close at hand there just had to be some way to make both conditions permanent.

Sure enough, opportunity presented itself. The weather—never good this close to the Eye—blew up and the vast majority of the Bonaventure crew scurried for cover. Ukele kept her eyes on a small cutter that had spent most of the day making lazy circles around the Bonaventure, never too close, but never too far away, either. Instead of pulling away from the anchored ship, it used the brief squall as cover to slink closer. She caught a look at its crew—three enormous, half-naked men, looking more like savages than her relatives ever had. Perfect.

“Don’t yer want to get under cover?” Torkelsen asked. He seemed immune to the weather, himself.

“I’m so tired of being cooped up,” Ukele said. “But a cloak would be nice.”

“Course! Follow me.”

“Do I have to? I don’t want to go climbing around the innards of some smelly ship.”

“The Bonaventure’s not smelly!” Oops, tactical error. Torkelsen was almost as fond of his ‘other mistress’ as the Captain. Ukele let herself droop a bit.

“You’re right, I was being mean. I’m just enjoying the quiet here so much . . . could you please go fetch it for me?”

“Captain said not to let you out of my sight, miss.”

Stubborn jackass! He had more willpower than she suspected. Maybe that was why Pegsworthy sicced this particular loyal dog on her. “Well, I wouldn’t want to get you in trouble with the Captain.”

“Oh, it ain’t like that, but a man just hates to disappoint ‘im, y’know? Let’s go find you that cloak.” The bunkroom was crammed with pirates engaged in all manner of pirate activities. Ukele saw the ruination of her plans, but Torkelsen turned the other way, into the hold, threading his way between the casks and crates and bundles. “I know we got summat around here that’ll do the trick.” A heavily waxed length of canvas came loose from a bundle of similar items and he draped it with a flourish over Ukele’s shoulders. She smiled up at him and released the spell she’d prepared while his back was turned.

“You’re so nice to me, but I don’t want to put you to any more trouble. You should just stay here.”

“Right. I’ll just wait here.”

“Until I get back.”

“Until you get back.”

Moving quickly but with grace so that no one would notice anything unusual, Ukele slipped back to the deck. Now where had that cutter gotten to . . . ah. Ukele waved the waxed cloak until she was sure she’d gotten the attention of the three men in the cutter. Then she climbed over the rail and jumped into the sea.

“You want something, girly?” the apparent leader asked after they’d fished her out of the water. He was massive and hideous, but Ukele was willing to tolerate both conditions for now if that was what it took to get well away. “Yer with the Bonaventure?”

“Oh, I was with them briefly but not, you know, WITH them. And I’d do a lot to get away nice and quiet.”

“Well, I think we can help yer there. Harrigan’ll want ter see yeh.”

“I don’t know any Harrigan, but if he wants to see me I suppose I can oblige.”

“Oh, ye’ll oblige him, all right.”

* * *

“They would fetch a pretty penny, but I’m not so sure I want to dispose of those weapons so quickly, Markuss. If a war shapes up we may need them ourselves. That, and I’d hate to discover that I’d accepted coin for the privilege of arming our enemies.”

“Coin can be as serviceable a weapon as arms, Captain. As I should know.” Markuss pinched the bridge of his nose, resettling his smoked spectacles, a habitual gesture that had earned him his nickname years ago. He did not look entirely human, being tall, cadaverous, beak-nosed and lantern-jawed with a grayish tinge to his skin and no hair to speak of, not even eyebrows or eyelashes. Few people, even aboard the Bonaventure, knew that Pinch had devil ancestry by way of Cheliax. It showed most dramatically in his teeth when he smiled, but he never did so it mostly passed unremarked. Pegsworthy was probably the only man alive who both knew and used Pinch’s name.

“I take your point, but I’d rather not get a name for heaving bags of money at Chelish ships. It’d only encourage them.”

“As you say, Captain.”

CAPTAIN!” The door burst open and a breathless, soaked Torkelsen staggered inside. “Captain, I dunno what happened . . .”

“Eggal.” Pegsworthy’s tone was deeply reproving.

“I dunno how she got away from me, Captain! She ain’t anywhere on the ship an’ the boats weren’t touched. She must’ve jumped over the side an’ swum for it. In this weather!”

Pegsworthy sighed and put his books away. “So be it. Organize search parties, send everyone out in the boats—have a few men put ashore in case she did make it that far. I can’t thank you for delaying to search the ship, Eggal, where could she possibly hide that would make any difference?”

“Sorry, Captain.”

“Don’t be sorry, hop to it. We’ve got to catch her before she talks her way onto another ship—at best we’ll have to pay ransom to get her back then.”

“Perhaps I might be of assistance, Captain,” Pinch said. Pegsworthy paused and blinked at the quartermaster.

“Uh . . . forgive me for being skeptical, Markuss, but in what way, exactly?” Pinch was notorious for flatly refusing to engage in action of any sort—he wouldn’t raise a weapon even to save his own skin.

“You might be aware that my vision is of, shall we say, a superior character.”

“Yes?”

“Well, at this moment I am able to make out three persons who have beached a cutter not far from here and are removing a fourth—small and possibly female—from it.”

“Damnation, man, why didn’t you say something!?”

“I believe I just did.”

“Eggal, get Durgrin and have him bring that Dimension Door scroll up here. Now.”

* * *

“Captain, I only have the one scroll. And it’s not a guarantee that it will work—I haven’t mastered this degree of magic. And I can only take myself and two other people. At best.”

“Sorry, Durgrin, but this is an emergency. How many men did you say there were, Pinch? Three?”

“That is the number I saw, Captain. I cannot say whether that is the number there are.”

“Good enough. Take me and Torkelsen, Durgrin. I’d wager we can handle any three other men and put a good scare into a much larger number. Pinch, you have Labella follow us up with the boats, I don’t want to wind up stranded.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Durgrin, cast it.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.” The dwarf read the scroll and a faintly glowing distortion shimmered up around the three men. Then, with a whumpfing noise, it collapsed in on itself, taking them with it.

* * *

WHUMPF!

Pegsworthy staggered and fell to his knees on the sand as the footing violently changed. The rain soaked through his coat as he struggled to get to his feet and draw his sword at the same time. “Unhand her,” he said flatly, menacing the three men. Torkelsen already had his morningstar ready, while Durgrin hovered behind them, ready to back them up with his magic.

“Damn it!” Ukele cried. “Don’t let them take me!”

“Well, lookee, boys, ain’t this a pleasant surprise. Tha Captain hisself, no less. Don’t need no girl, then Now, you come along quiet-like, an’ we won’t have to kill nobody.” The spokesman grinned, displaying several badly-set gold teeth.

“What do you want with me?” Pegsworthy demanded, baffled. He’d thought this for a simple kidnapping—with even odds on who precisely was the kidnapped party. How wrong was he? And how much was this mistake going to cost?

“Not us. Captain Harrigan. He set us to keep an eye on yer, but this be even better.”

“You’d break the truce, then? Hardly wise.”

“Us? You be the one with the sword out. We wuz just defendin’ ourselfs.”

“You’re kidnapping my charge.”

“She came out to us, Captain. We’re just goin’ for a little stroll. Harrigan’d love to meet ‘er. He likes pretty girls. Course, they don’t always like ’im much.”

“Hand her over or there won’t be enough left of you to make fish bait. I’ll not tell you again.”

“Don’t hand me over to him!” Ukele squealed. One of the thugs casually slammed a meaty fist into her back, knocking her to the ground.

“Shut up, witch, this don’t concern you no more.”

“So what’ll it be, Captain?” the spokesman said. “We ain’t gonna hand her over. You got the stones to come an’ take her?”

There didn’t seem to be any sense in replying to that, so Pegsworthy leapt forward, driving low toward the spokesman’s gut, but the man dodged easily and kicked Pegsworthy’s feet out from underneath him. Torkelsen began to cast a spell, but one of the other thugs stepped forward, grabbed him by the neck, and jabbed a sword up through his stomach so ferociously that the cleric was lifted completely off his feet.

“Durgrin!” Pegsworthy ordered. “Get the girl!” He fended off the thugs, who were clearly trying to take him alive. The dwarven sorcerer charged across the beach and threw a spell, concealing himself and Ukele in a pool of impenetrable darkness. Ukele cursed and there were scuffling noises somewhere inside.

Pegsworthy laid open one man’s brow and neatly sheared off another one’s hand. The wounds bled sluggish dark ooze instead of pumping red blood. Whatever these men seemed, they weren’t entirely human. Something the weight and dimensions of a tree trunk struck him in the chest, throwing him to the ground and knocking the wind out of him. A vicious kick to the side of his head followed, darkening his vision for a moment.

“Ye’ll pay dearly for that, Captain,” the man with the freshly-missing hand said, pulling out an ugly, blackened blade. “Yer already short one leg. How many of yer other limbs d’ye think I can take off afore ye die?”

“Harrigan’ll want ter kill ’im hisself.”

“Harrigan’s busy racin’. He’ll be happy enough with a head in a basket.” The thug grabbed a handful of Pegsworthy’s hair and hauled upward—Pegsworthy mustered enough focus to spit in his face and got another kick to the head for his trouble. He felt some vague hope that the muzziness would dull the pain, but this proved not to be the case.

Durgrin froze when he heard the agonized scream that went on for a shockingly long time, replaced by the sound of a man being violently sick. Ukele stopped squrming. “What’s happening!?” she cried in horror.

“It’s the Captain,” the dwarf said. He dismissed the darkness and readied another spell. Two of the thugs had Pegsworthy pinned to the ground while the other sawed at his arm with a nasty serrated knife.

“Yer want a fight, dwarf?” Lightning erupted from Durgrin’s fingertips, striking the two holding Pegsworthy. They howled as the current made their limbs jerk in a hideous dance and steam burst from their clothes. The other thug was on him before he could summon up another spell, picking the dwarf up and slamming him bodily into a rock. “I’ll gut yer nice an’ slow. So yer can watch.”

“Stop! Stop it! What are you doing?!” Ukele shrieked.

“Quiet, bitch!”

“Don’t you dare speak to me like that! Stop it this instant!”

The thug rounded on her, slamming his knee into her belly as she tried to grab his arm. She fell to the sand and vomited. Durgrin took advantage of the distraction to draw his belt knife and bury it in the thug’s sapling-thick forearm, but the man didn’t so much as flinch and his grip on the dwarf’s throat did not loosen. Then a wave of magic swept over them both.

“Let him GO!” Ukele screamed. Durgrin fell in a heap at the base of the boulder and gasped for air. “Get OUT of here!” The thug fought the compulsion for an instant, then turned and fled.

“No, no, no,” Durgrin gasped, scrabbling along the beach toward the downed men. “Don’t be dead, please don’t be dead . . .”

“What . . . what did they DO to him?” Ukele squeaked, creeping along behind him. Durgrin wiped the rain from his face so he could see. The wound in Pegsworthy’s arm was still pumping blood, so he was still alive, but Torkelsen was clearly a lost cause. Durgrin yanked the shirt off the corpse, held it in the rain for a bit to wash the sand off it, and made a rough tourniquet.

“Put your cloak on the ground,” he ordered Ukele. Mutely, she complied, and working together they rolled Pegsworthy onto it and dragged him into what cover was available.

“Is he . . . dead?” she asked, gesturing to Torkelsen.

“You don’t see many live men with their guts strewn across half a beach, miss. Stay here, keep the Captain warm. I’m going to signal the ship. We’ll just have to hope Labella can get here before any more of Harrigan’s finest do. Why’d you enchant him, anyway? He’ll just run back to Harrigan and we’ll be up to our necks in it!”

“I couldn’t think of anything else to do! I don’t have any lightning bolts!”

“Well, we’re still alive for now. Let’s try to keep it that way.” Durgrin climbed back down to the shore and called for dancing lights, sending them arcing skyward so they’d be sure to be seen. He thought he could make out the dark shape of a longboat headed their direction, but in the rain and wind it was hard to tell. He returned to find Pegsworthy awake and attempting to sit up, babbling incoherently at Ukele, who struggled to stop him. “Lay down, Captain, lay down! You’ll hurt yourself!” the dwarf cried and joined in the attempt to restrain Pegsworthy.

“Can’t . . . breathe . . . air . . .” he was indeed wheezing, and red bumps were coming up on his skin.

“Shit,” Durgrin hissed.

“What?!” Ukele cried.

“He’s been poisoned. Here, help me, I’ve got to make him swallow this.” She tried, but her hands were trembling so much that she was worse than useless. Durgrin finally ordered her sharply out of his way. She curled into a tight little knot and began bawling.

“I hate you all!” she wailed. “I want to go home!”

* * *

“Dammit, Durgrin!” Labella shouted the moment the longboat touched ground. “What possessed you to bring him out here without me!”

“He told me to!” the dwarf cried. “I couldn’t bring more than three anyway!”

“Well, where is he? And . . . Besmara is that Torkelsen?! Goddess, these people are nothing but trouble! I ain’t seen as many corpses in a year as I seen since we took up with them! Where’s the Captain?”

“He’s hurt bad, Labella. I dunno if he’ll make it.”

“Shite, Durgrin, why didn’t ye say so afore?!” Labella rushed into the crude shelter, skidding to a halt on her knees. “What, this? I’ve seen him take worse’n this before many a time. Idiot, worrying me for nothing!”

“It’s not that. Look at his color!”

“I cain’t see his bloomin’ color in the bloomin’ dark, ye bloomin’ fool. ‘Elp me get ’im onto the ship. What in ’ells we’re gonna do for ‘im without Tork I canna say. Mebbe Pinch’ll know somethin’.”

Pegsworthy did not stir as they moved him onto the longboat. The rowers worked feverishly, spurred on as their Captain’s breathing became slowly more labored.

“Can ye do anythin’ fer him, Pinch?” Labella asked, Durgrin huddling at her side like a lost child. Ukele seemed stunned and had to be led belowdecks by hand to change clothes and be put to bed. Torkelsen’s body, wrapped in canvas, was quietly removed from the longboat and taken away.

The quartermaster frowned deeply. “I can get him out of those wet clothes and get some proper bandages on. After that, we will see.” He made a neat, efficient job of it. “I have seen this poison before, though I do not know its name. It kills slowly, over many days, but death is nearly always assured in the end. Even men of iron constitution have succumbed. Did you administer the antitoxin?”

“Yes, sir,” Durgrin said.

“Then we can hope that he will not die immediately. Perhaps we may yet find a skilled healer who can purge the poison.”

“We ain’t hardly got friends here, you know that. There be plenty who’d not grieve if the Captain kicked it,” Labella said.

“We have some. And they have proven resourceful.”

“Resourceful he says! More like a curse out o’ hell! Where’s that scurvy wench, I’ll give ‘er a hidin’ she’ll not forget all ’er days!”

“The Captain would hardly thank you for it.”

“Well, then ’e can tell me off when ’e gets better!”

“Don’t, Labella,” Durgrin said. “She’s not right in the head. I don’t think she’s ever really seen someone get killed before. And, like you said, the Captain doesn’t have many friends here. You want to risk turning off the only people who might help us?”

“Kin ye get some kind o’ message to ‘em while they’re in the race?” She asked. Durgrin shook his head solemnly.

“I’m a sorcerer, not a wizard. I’m sorry, but we’ll just have to wait until they get back.”

“And pray,” she added.

Comments

This was Cold Blood good. Excellent write-up, Jennifer. : )

Interlude: She Chose Poorly
 

Aww, thanks Z!

Interlude: She Chose Poorly
Jennifer

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