Skull and Shackles

Interlude: The Troublemakers

In Which a Course Is Set.

23 Sarenith, 4712 AR

Captain Plugg glanced up from his desk as his crew squeezed into the captain’s cabin. His loyal crew, his real crew. Even the two Rahadoumi he’d recruited from the Man’s Promise were more trustworthy than the troublemakers they’d picked up in Port Peril…

Owlbear shifted out of their way, chains rattling as he settled back down on the leeward side of the mast. Plugg could no longer count no the hulking brute to defend him, especially from Feruzi. At least the clanking of his chains might be enough to wake him, if knives came for him in his sleep.

Master Scourge came in last, closing and locking the door behind him. “It’s done, Cap’n,” the rail-thin man announced.

“Good.” Plugg steepled his fingers, allowing himself to think that maybe this would work, after all. “Do the others suspect anything?”

Scourge shook his head. “They was all fast asleep down below. Aretta here kept real close watch on ‘em. Ne’er made a peep.” The ex-harlot grinned from one big ear to the other, nodding her agreement.

“And our two guests in the officer’s quarters?”

“The same,” said Badger Medlar.

“Then we should make the Slithering Coast in a few days, as long as the wind stays with us.” Plugg cracked the knuckles on his left hand, then his right. “And once we’re there, we can rid ourselves of our crew’s more troublesome members.”

Narwhal Tate spoke up: “You mean let ‘em walk? Or…” The dwarf mimed dragging a blade across his own neck.

“Oh, Mister Tate. Surely you’ve seen how formidable they are in a fair fight.”

“Didn’t say nothin’ about a fair fight, Cap’n sir.”

Plugg chuckled. “Of course not. But we barely have enough sailors to crew this ship as it is. Assuming you could send them to Besmara’s locker right now, it would only make your jobs more difficult. Better to wait until we reach Rickety, and see if we can resolve this peacefully.”

The captain’s words didn’t rest well with anyone, but that was the point. Make them hunger for it, Plugg thought. It will make the end of this dance all the sweeter. “For now, we stay the course. Get some rest, you scurvy tars. Dismissed.”

The crew filed out, save for the lingering first mate. “What is it, Master Scourge?”

Scourge closed the door. “Permission t’ speak freely, Cap’n sir.”

“Granted,” Plugg said with a sigh. This was the downside of his brand of discipline. It was the only way to keep a gang of cutthroats and scoundrels in line, but it made a dog like Scourge afraid to speak his mind…

“Why did you bring them on board? They’re just gonna make more trouble. You coulda filled th’ ranks with Rahadoumi. An’ swabs like Tibbs, Toppin, an’ Scrimshaw mighta been partial to th’ troublemakers, but they ain’t the kind t’ start trouble on their own.”

Plugg pushed himself away from his desk. “That is a fair question, Master Scourge. After all, they were likely to anger Captain Harrigan at some point, and we both know that Harrigan is not as forgiving as I.” As he crossed the cabin to stand by his first mate, he added, “But you already know the answer to your question, don’t you?”

“Sure. Why leave their fates in someone else’s hands?”

“It’s more than that, Master Scourge. They have challenged our authority. They have sown the seeds of mutiny amongst our crew. We must make an example of them, and we must do so in such a way that no one ever challenges us again.”

“So if – ”

“BUT we must do so when the time is right. And we must not do anything to anger them until that time comes.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Scourge lied.

“You are not to touch Ms. Quinn. That is not why I assigned her to the officer’s quarters.”

“I wasn’t – ”

Plugg closed the distance between them, gripping Scourge’s scrawny neck in one hand. He knew just how much pressure to apply to make his point. “Once the others are dead, you may dispose of Ms. Quinn in whatever fashion suits you. But if your rooster’s pride ruins our chance, I will not hesitate to end you.” He’d planned to keelhaul Maheem to keep order, after all. Scourge was stupid, but he couldn’t be stupid enough to believe he was any less disposable than Maheem. “Nod if you understand me.”

Eyes wide with shock, Scourge finally nodded. “Good dog,” Plugg said, releasing his first mate’s throat before patting him on the chest. “We’re going to be rich men, you and I. Rich as dragons. But we have to be patient. And we have to be careful. Or we’ll be dead men. Dismissed.”

“Aye, Cap’n.” Scourge bowed and made a hasty exit.

Locking the door behind his first mate, Plugg went to the window to gaze out at the moonlit sea. He had come too far to fail now. His ruthless devotion to Harrigan’s orders had given him ample opportunity to worm, blackmail, and murder his way to the first mate’s position. He’d never been able to crack Harrigan’s inner circle of officers, which vexed him to no end – but none of that mattered now. At last, he had his own ship, and the means to keep it.

Only the four troublemakers stood in his way. He would leave the surgeon to Scourge’s devices; his first mate had some sort of score to settle, regarding the redhead. Such sticky trifles were beneath Plugg, and always had been. The tribeswoman had rallied every misfit in the Wormwood’s crew to her banner, and she’d made Scourge look like an ass at the Bloody Hour, so she, too, would suffer at the first mate’s hands.

Plugg reserved his own malice for the other two. The gunslinger had earned Harrigan’s favor with his reefclaws – had even earned an afternoon off! – which was more than Plugg had earned in eleven months of trying. He also found himself coveting the man’s pistol. Surely someone could teach Plugg to fire it without blowing himself up.

And then there was the samurai. Her devotion to discipline is so like my own; I was certain she would follow me. Instead, she turned the crew against me in one moment, and all because Maheem and that miserable shit Chumlett failed the task Scourge gave them.

There was nothing else for it. Reiko-san would die. They would all die. Along with the redhead, the foul-mouthed halfling, and that accursed, drunken cook. Let the foppish gnome and the Rahadoumi thief decide whether to stand with the victorious or the dead; it made little difference. It would happen.

He permitted himself to smile. Reflected in the window glass, though, it looked like a grimace, rows of green and gray teeth in the moonlight. He closed his mouth at once.

It would happen, and soon. All Captain Plugg needed was an opportunity.

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