The serene silence was broken at once by the wounded, choked wheeze of the woman buried beneath the slosh and debris that littered the lower deck of the Sandstorm.
As soon as that first flood of air filled her lungs, she broke down into a horrific, bloody coughing fit. She curled in on herself, a tattered rope wrapping around her ankle and tightening to the point where it cut off her circulation, tears streaking down her muddy, swollen face. A sudden lurch of the ship sent her flying into the wall, the rope never slackening as it carelessly whipped her to and fro. The material bit into her ankle and made it bleed.
A groan tore from her throat, drawing more globs of dark, congealed blood. Dirty water entered her mouth and she quickly spat it back out, nose scrunching up at the vile taste that was left behind. Frantically, her hands went down and started to pull at the tattered old rope. It seemed that the harder she tried to pull, the tighter the rope became. Finally, with a grunt, she collapsed into the murky water once more. Well, fuck.
In the distance, she could hear a man laughing. And, as if to add insult to injury, he was clapping at her little display. When she stopped, glaring at him, he said, “Oh, don’t mind me. Continue on, m’lady.”
She spit in his general direction, lifting her head just enough to keep it out of the water, and scowled. “What the hell have you done to me, urchin?”
“Ye best be watchin’ how ye speak to me, m’lady.” He approached the bars of her cell, some sort of weapon clapping against his hip. “I have a lot more power over yer fate than ye might think.”
“Where is your captain? I demand to see him this instant!” She was pulling at the rope, trying to claw closer to her captor, groaning with pain as she stretched out the ligaments in her ankle.
He laughed. It was a broken, drunken sound. “Ye think yer in any position to be demandin’ things from me, m’lady? Yer a funny one, yes-siree!” He turned around, returning his attention to the half-washed floor.
“I’ll kill you!” She warned, snarling through chapped, bloody lips. The man only laughed.
“I’d like to see ye try. I really would. ‘Specially considerin’ all yer weapons be over there.”
Her captor inclined his head to the far wall. The woman allowed her head to sag for a moment, bringing sweet relief to her screaming neck and shoulders, and then raised it again. Sure enough, attached to one of the nails that haphazardly stuck out of the wall, were her weapons. The whole lot of them. And while she didn’t have them on her, she was certainly thankful that none had been taken from their proper place.
She coughed again, body rattling weakly, and the man smiled. Finally, she forced out, “What do you want with me?”
“Aye, that’s not a question for me to be answerin’.”
“And why not?” Now it was her turn to incline her head to the side, blonde curls tumbling over her shoulder. “After all, you have so much control over my fate, don’t you?”
The ship violently rocked to the left and she was sent into a stack of crates, which floated on the inch and a half of murky water without a care. At first, they simply moved with her body. But then, when the first collided with the wall of the brig, her body crashed through the first crate and became lodged halfway through the second. Blood ran over her eyes, staining her already dirty skin, and began to mix with the water.
Laughter. Her stomach turned and she had to fight the urge to retch, which soon turned out to be a losing battle. Weakly freeing herself from her wooden confines, she allowed herself to be overcome by the sickening scents that surrounded her and emptied the contents of her stomach into the diluted water that surrounded her. Now, the sound of a tattered rag working over the wooden planks of the brig joined the laughter.
“Ye ‘ave the weakest sea-legs I’ve ever seen on a pirate, m’lady.” The man cackled.
“I’m not a pirate.” She spat the word out as if it were a vile taste in her mouth. “And don’t call me that.”
He rolled his eyes, flicking grimy water in her direction. “Begging yer pardon, missy,” the discourtesy in his tone was not unaccounted for, “but I’ve no other name to call ye.”
“I have no intention of telling you my name, urchin.” She growled, spitting at him again.
He shrugged, returning to his work. “Then ye’ll have to settle for m’lady, m’lady.” A moment passed, and he listened to the sounds of her feeble struggle. Unintentionally, he offered a pearl of wisdom, “Don’t fight it”
She paused, holding up a sliver of broken crate and attempting to use it as a knife to cut through the rope. “And what exactly do you mean by that?”
“Ye don’t demand to see the captain. The captain come and go as he pleases. And he the only judge in these parts that’s worth his salt.” The man said. “If he judges ye to be a fine young lass, he’ll unchain ye.”
“And if he doesn’t judge me to be… ‘fine’?” She had to ask.
“He’ll kill ye.”
Slosh. Ice cold water rained down over her body, causing her to awaken with a start. When had she fallen asleep? She couldn’t remember. But before she could further think on it, more ice-water rained over her. Two men were conversing nearby – one, she surmised, must’ve been holding the bucket. The other was the servant. She could easily recognize his accent. What did they want with her now?
“…I told ye that she would be awake soon, Master Sandman.” The man said, his smile unsettling. “She hasn’t told me much, but she insists that she isn’t a pirate.”
The man called ‘Sandman’ smirked. There was a blade in his hand, perhaps a total of five inches long. “That’s true, James. She’s not a pirate.” A brief pause. “She’s a bounty hunter. Isn’t that right, Arcadia?”
The blade was beneath her neck, pressing into the tender flesh. She had no choice but to do exactly as he wished, lest he slit her throat. Her dripping blonde hair clung to her back, now officially soaked through, and her blue, blood-shot eyes struggled to meet his. Desperately, she reached through the bars and clasped a hand around his ankle. He smiled – whether in pity or anger she would never know – and crushed her wrist beneath his boot.
Her clothes were little more than rags – they had been practically torn to shreds once the crew discovered her true gender. Bleeding wounds stood out from two prominent holes in her breeches. They were currently being cleansed with unclean water. Her boots had been taken, cut into smaller scraps, and used to patch the soles of shoes for the crew. On top, her corset was a mere tangle of wires and cloth.
“You’re looking quite well, Arcadia.” The Sandman leered, his face cast in shadow.
Arcadia chanced looking downward, feeling the blade dig into her throat. “Have we met before?”
“Oh, yes. Yes, we’ve met before. Though whether or not you chose to remember it is another story entirely. I’ll fill in the details, save us both some time. You tried to kill me to settle a debt with Queen Mary.”
“A debt that I still must pay.” Arcadia whispered, feeling the knife draw away momentarily.
A flicker of light danced across his face, before it returned to the shadows. “You think it smart to try and kill me again? To be honest, I thought you were a bit smarter than that, but I’ve been known to be wrong before.”
“You’re despicable.” A growl, which lapsed into a frantic fit of coughing.
“And you’re just a lovely little doll.” A grin, barely visible in the darkness, appeared. “Well? How about the truth. Tell me why you’re really here and I’ll decide whether or not you come out of that cell alive.”
Arcadia fell down into the water, unable to hold herself up any longer. Her broken ribs were excruciating. The Sandman circled around her cell, reached inside, and slashed the rope. A gasp, then, “I came to kill you.”
The Sandman laughed. Absently, he jammed the blade of the knife into the lock on her cell. It was destroyed a little too easily. The door opened with an awful squeal. A big, meaty hand reached in, taking hold of her soaking wet corset and hauling her to her feet. A scream tore from her throat as she put pressure on her wounded foot, followed by more coughing as she tried to clear the blood from her throat.
The Sandman smiled. “You still think that you can kill me, ‘Cadie?”
“If you’re planning on killing me, just do it already.” Arcadia whispered, incapable of more.
“Kill you? Kill you? Why on earth would I do that?”
Still holding onto her hair, he dragged her out of the cell and tossed her onto the dry floor. She hit the floor with a wet smack, flinching and crying out as her ribs were aggravated once again. So, this was finally it. He would kill her now, right here on the dirt-encrusted floor, and give her a burial at sea. It would’ve been nice, she reasoned, to not have to worry about what Queen Mary would have in store for her once she returned to England.
But he didn’t kill her. No, that would have been far too kind. Instead, he tossed the knife onto the floor, pressing the toe of his boot down on the handle and kicking it away before she could reach it. For a brief moment, she thought she saw a hint of amber eyes beneath the rim of his hat, but it was gone just as soon as it had come. Stiffly, he straightened out his shirt, smoothing out invisible wrinkles. Arcadia scowled.
“I have a proposition for you.” The captain said, smirking.
“I’m listening.” Arcadia whispered, unable to meet his eyes.
“You’re listening? You have no choice but to listen.” There was that broken, drunken laugh again. “Anyway, the proposition. I’ll allow you to attempt to kill me.” He said this dismissively.
Arcadia was staring at the knife over in the corner, rallying her strength.
“But every time you fail, you will spend one night in my bed.” Blue eyes widened. He waved her off dismissively, “I have no interest in your femininity. I don’t doubt how many have exploited that before."
“Excuse me?” Arcadia hissed.
“What do you say?” He asked, ignoring her question.
She didn’t answer. She threw herself across the floor, stretched to her left, and grabbed hold of the knife. Blindly, she threw it where she imagined his heart would be – where a normal man’s heart would be. Instead of the blood that she so desired, a thin dribble of sand fell down onto her head. And he was laughing. He pulled the blade out and threw it to the ground again.
“Just so you know, that counts as attempt number one.” And, before turning to leave, told James, “Clean her up. I wouldn’t want her anywhere near my bed in her current state.” A pause, “See you tonight.” She thought she saw him wink, and then he was gone.