It’s a beautiful afternoon, without a single cloud in the sky. After taking a walk around the ship, although mindful of not stepping too close to the railing as I still perfectly remember my near-death experience of being cast over, I feel my head begin to clear again after being cooped up for so long.
I haven’t been out in quite some time, and this morning, the captain was adamant about me getting some fresh air. Why, I don’t know, but I’m not going to question his motives, as in the end, I’ll get some fresh air and beautiful weather. He and I have barely spoken, just like how it was before the incident. But I’ve noticed he seems distant and less aggravated than usual - which is evidently saying something on account of his usually easily-irritated personality. He’s been mostly quiet, as if in deep thought, and I can’t help but wonder what he’s thinking about. Does it have anything to do with my necklace, or the fact that we’re having to stop at the next town to gather more supplies for the trip?
The captain is a bizarre man, one I have yet to quite figure out. Although, thinking more on it, it should be simple: he’s a cold-hearted pirate. He probably doesn’t understand the value of life, after throwing mates off his own ship for merely making mistakes. What kind of man does that?
“A storm’s coming tonight,” one of the older pirates mutters as I pass by. I linger, though, curious as my gaze shifts to the excessively calm ocean before me and the cloudless sky. How can there be a storm coming if the sky is so beautiful? I see no signs of clouds.
Another pirate voices my thoughts, and the old pirate grunts. “Whenever a storm comes, I feel it in me bones - they creak more than usual. And this one’s a strong one, aye.”
I take a moment to glance up at the sky again, squinting my eyes for any signs of clouds, but there’s nothing but the vastness of blue.
The port is beginning to view, way off in the distance. Right now, it looks like a tiny, black dot. I glance towards the front of the ship, where the captain stands idly, alone, and he’s staring straight ahead with an expressionless face, his hands held behind his back in a sober fashion. What does a man like him think about? Gold? Fortune?
“I wish more days were like this,” Niall says, suddenly beside me. He’s sweating, his cheeks flushed from having to work alongside the other pirates. He leans against the wooden pole and crosses his arms over his chest, his gaze focused on the calm horizon.
“It’s beautiful,” I agree softly, then glance to make sure we’re alone. Lowering my voice, I add, “I heard one of the pirates say there’s a storm coming, though.”
Niall looks confused. “Really? But there isn’t a cloud in the sky!”
“That’s exactly what I - ”
“I’ll tell you what, mate,” Tomlinson is suddenly there, taking a swig of rum from a wooden canteen, that usual smirk playing along his lips, “Quarillon has some of the best taverns, as well as,” he leans closer to Niall and wiggles his eyebrows suggestively, “the most flexible wenches.”
Niall’s cheeks go bright red, his eyes heading for his feet. I myself feel a wave of unease, taking a step away from the pirate in slight disgust.
“I’m going to be staying on the ship,” Niall gets out finally. “Got a couple of maps I have to check out if we’re to take the quickest route.”
“That’s not going to happen, mate,” Louis snorts. “You know exactly what happened last time we let you and Rosebud ‘alone’ on the ship.”
“Nothing happened,” I state, frowning.
“Exactly. And there’s the problem,” he claps. “We pirates have a couple urges we have to take care of when we set foot on land,” he winks. “Niall’s been excessively tense for the last couple of days, and this could end up affecting him negatively in the long-run. He needs a release and since he doesn’t actually have the guts to make a move on you...” He lets his sentence hang and I clench my fists. “This is for his greater good, and I have the captain’s full support. Liam is the only one to stay on the ship tonight. We all need a release.”
I feel sick to my stomach.
Suddenly, I turn around, knowing very well that Zayn’s gaze is on our little trio. Our eyes meet. and his turn into slits as he takes in how close Niall and I are.
“Horan!” He calls out harshly.
Zayn doesn’t even need to elaborate, Niall pulls away sharply, knowing fully well what may happen if he so much as oversteps. I can’t help glaring at the captain, and he glares right back, beckoning me to him with his finger as if I am a child. I resist the strong urge to stay put and make my way to him.
“What?” I huff, standing beside him.
“You know what.”
“No. I don’t actually,” I reply.
His whole body tenses, and he grits his teeth, before his demeanour immediately shifts back to a calm one.
“I’ll be going to the whorehouse with my men tonight,” he states finally.
“Am I supposed to be impressed? Disgusted?” I scoff. “You can do as you please. I don’t care.”
“I’ll be taking Horan with me.”
“I know, Tomlinson filled me in already,” I roll my eyes. “Are you trying to get me to tell you to stay? Trying to get me to plead to let Niall stay on the ship? Because that won’t happen.”
He blinks, brows furrowing. I shift my feet, forcing myself not to break our gaze. I know exactly what he’s doing - he’s toying with me. Dangling this in front of my face, all for my reaction. But I’m determined not to give him one, even though I’m absolutely livid.
It’s okay for him to go to a whorehouse and force the only friend I have on this ship, to try and corrupt him, too. But the moment someone else lays a finger on me, even if it is to save my life - that’s completely inexcusable. His hypocrisy is what makes it so difficult to stare at him calmly, to bite back the anger, despite my flaming cheeks, but he takes this for mortification at the mentioning of a whorehouse and what comes along with that.
But then I see Niall from the corner of my eye. Why isn’t he objecting? Is he actually willing to go to a whorehouse, knowing fully well what kinds of things happen there?
“Besides,” I say finally, “Niall’s too good for a whorehouse. He’ll refuse to go.” I turn to look at him, my voice faltering. “Right?”
Niall glances at a smirking Louis, who’s watching the spectacle with a very much amused expression, and then over at the captain himself, who returns his look coldly. I see him visibly swallow - his hands are actually trembling.
“If the captain wishes it,” he says finally, “then I’ll go. I’ve never been before, anyhow. I’m sure it won’t do any harm.”
“That’s the spirit, mate!” Louis clamps his hand on the blonde’s shoulder, laughing. “There’s a first for everything, aye!”
My facade drops, an inch. I stare at Niall, dumbfounded, as the slow, excited smile spreads along his face at Louis’ enthusiasm.
“We’ll be arriving soon, may as well get a head start for our long, awaited night!” Louis continues, handing Niall the flask of rum. I step forward, opening my mouth to protest, but Niall opens it up and takes a small sip. When his face cringes from the taste, Louis reels with laughter. And I can’t form speech - I feel like I’m part of a dream, waiting to be woken up where things make sense again. Sort of. But with Niall beaming at Louis, and Louis taking another of the rum, and the captain staring at the two, looking the slightest bit amused - absolutely none of this makes any sense.
“So, let me guess,” I seethe, locking eyes with the captain again, “I’ll be locked inside your quarters for the remainder of the night.”
“With Liam, yes,” he replies. “Why?” He steps closer, tilting his head. “Do you have a problem with that?”
He’s testing me, back to his games again - closely watching my face, trying to get a reaction. It takes everything I have to push back the anger and keep a blank expression. I’ll be damned before I let him know how furious I am at how unfair I’m being treated. And if I protest, what will it change?
I’ll still be locked up because despite all of this, and everything that’s happened, I’m nothing but a prisoner here. A piece to his puzzle, leading to whatever fortune awaits - a typical pirate’s fantasy. And here, that’s all I’ll ever be. I’m sure of it.
Unless I escape.
A round of shouts from the other pirates seizes our attention. Looking out over the ocean, the port is closer than ever, us having snuck up on it without us noticing due to our discussion. The pirates whoop and cheer at the sight of land.
But when I see it, I’m filled with nothing but dread because I know that with this, I’ll only be locked up. Again.
“Horan!” Zayn calls out again as the port draws closer with every passing wave that caresses the side of the ship. The blonde looks up, slightly frightened. “I have something for you,” he begins, reaching in his boot. He pulls out a small sack of gold and throws it in his direction. My friend catches it in midair, as confused as I am by the action. The crew around us seem to understand what is going on. “It’s customary for the captain and crew to treat any newcomer with extra special care the first time they step on land.”
The pirates around us all throw a coin or two in Niall’s direction, sniggering between themselves.
“So tonight, not only will you get a fair share of rum and whisky, but Quarillon’s best whore will also be at your service. Our treat,” the captain ends, his eyes focused on me the whole time.
I clench my fists, feeling my face heat up in anger. He’s doing this on purpose.
“I’m telling you, mate, Misty is the best whore a pirate could ever ask for,” Louis sighs almost dreamily, wrapping his arm around Niall’s shoulder. “She’ll literally do anything for that amount of gold,” he trails on, motioning the coins around him.
Niall’s cheeks are bright red, very similarly to mine. Though not for the same reasons.
Next thing I know, the ship is dropping its anchor and berthing near a very large quay.
Seagulls cheer overhead in abundant flocks, and from this close proximity, I can see the inhabitants of the porch walking along the port. But over in the town are spirals of roofs from various buildings, with smoke seeping into the sky. So many different colors, I can see, that belong to the people's’ attire - reds, greens, browns, whites, blacks, etc.
“We’re setting sail in the morning, boys!” Zayn calls out to his men as the ship finally accosts. “I want all of you to be back before the town awakes!”
There’s a series of cheers.
“Yes capt’n?” The bulky brunette replies, appearing from God knows where.
“Please escort Miss Aldrich back to my quarters,” Zayn instructs, walking down to the lower decks. “Keep her there until my return. I have a whore to attend to,” he winks.
I nearly lose it right there. I feel like screaming and punching something. Anything. But Liam’s firm hand on my shoulder stops me from doing anything. Instead, I’m nudged in the opposite direction, right back to the captain’s stuffy quarters.
I’ve been staring at the wooden wall in front of me for the past couple hours, burning a hole through it with my mind. Liam’s a few feet away from me, as quiet as ever. I haven’t decided yet who I preferred to have as a babysitter: silent Liam or psychotic Louis. As strange as it seems, I think it’s the latter. At least with Tomlinson, there had been some kind of interaction. Something to speed up time. Now there’s nothing. Nothing but dead silence.
My eyes shift from their spot on the wall to Liam’s sitting form. I’m surprised to see him nodding off, his head rolling from one side to the other before he straightens himself, blinks, and does it again. He’s clearly exhausted.Though pirates are thieves, murderers, raiders - not doubt terrible human beings, there’s one thing I can say about them.
They’re hard working.
They work from sun up to sun down. They may have fun doing it, of course, with rum always being in their reach, but it’s only stops like tonight where they can actually go out, meet people - even if they are whores - and, well, be human.
Oh, what am I doing? I sit up in bed slowly, carefully, eyes trained steadily on Liam’s dozing form. I shouldn’t be thinking in terms of the pirates - I should be planning my escape! With him falling asleep, I might have a fair chance. And despite all my mullings from before, it’s worth it this time. The captain’s not only getting under my skin, as much as I hate to admit, he’s also getting under Niall’s.
And this, I can’t see.
Normally, I’d refuse to try an attempt without him being with me, only because I’d want him to be free, also. But it was his choice to willingly go to the whorehouse with rest of the lot, whereas I normally don’t have a choice. But I do now.
And I’ll be damned before I let it slip through my fingers.
The floorboards creak under my weight as soon as I step off the bed. Liam shuffles a little, but his eyes remain closed. He stretches out his legs and resumes dozing off.
Exhaling slowly, I step completely off the bed. It seems like my heart’s stopped in my chest. This is risky--dangerously risky. The door is probably locked, but I see the keys hung around Liam’s jacket.
I’ll somehow, someway, have to get them without him rousing.
Pursing my lips, I cover my mouth with one hand and tip toe towards the pirate’s sleeping form. The closer I get, the more I can hear his steady, deep breathing. I briefly wonder why he didn’t volunteer to go to the whorehouse with the rest of his mates - but this thought is flitting. I don’t have time to think, I only have time to act.
I’m right in front of him, staring hard at his face, searching for any sign of alertness. But it’s strangely peaceful, like a small, innocent boy, despite his pirate attire. My eyes trail to the keys resting against his jacket, hanging loosely by a rusty clip. My hand moves ever so slowly, and time freezes completely as my fingers make contact with the key. With one simple flick, I free it and seize it into my own - but Liam moves, and I flinch away, my heart hammering in my chest. Diving back onto the bed, I curl underneath the blankets, closing my eyes just as Liam’s open slightly, half awake.
“Wha - oh,” he murmurs, rubbing at his eyes. For a few moments, he stares at me, evidently bored, before his head leans back against the wall, his eyes slowly closing.
And then he’s asleep.
I clutch the keys tightly in my hand as I inch off the bed, keeping a close eye on him again. My feet don’t seem to make a shuffle of noise as I tread towards the door, but the keys do jingle as I go to unlock it. Holding my breath, I quickly unlock the door and open it, hearing it creak. When Liam shuffles, I quietly slip through; without waiting, I dash down the hallway, pausing when I reach the corner, ears straining for any footsteps. Most of the crew is probably in the town, but there’s bound to be some left aboard to guard the ship.
I can’t afford to run into anyone.
When all is silent except a shuffle of footsteps overhead, I rush down the hallway, reaching the opening to outside. It’s already pitch black out, with only the moonlight and stars out for light. But the air is crisp and fresh, yet vaguely chilly as I carefully survey the area. Two pirates are sitting on barrels right at the front entrance, sharing cups of rum, most likely, and their laughter reaches me from even this distance. Towards the left, over by the railing, another lone pirate looks out over the town, quietly sipping at his drink. Three? That’s all the captain thought of leaving to watch over his stronghold? It seems unbelievable, but that’s all I see at the moment.
But there’s a huge problem I cannot ignore. The lot sitting in front of the entrance. There’s no way I’d be able to sneak by them, and I can’t think of any form of distractions to seize every one of their attention.
And then my eyes look out at the black expanse of the water, which leads inevitably right to the the shore, lapping gently at its surface. Jumping in will make some noise, yes, but maybe it’ll give me time to reach the shore and run into town. But, swimming is an issue, especially remembering my near death experience. I have a deep fear of water instilled in me because of it, this I’m sure of, but even more so at night, when it’s utterly black. I’d never know what lurks beneath its dark depths…
But for a chance of freedom, this is worth it. Several broken planks are leaned against the walls from having broken in half from a storm, more likely. And remembering one particular book, wood floats.
Grabbing the biggest one, I make my way towards the back of the ship and peer out over the railing, after making sure I’m alone. The water seems still and serene, but how deep is it? If we can lay an anchor here, surely it must be deep.
All color has drained from my face, but I remind myself of what I’ll be escaping. For a moment, I feel guilty. Niall should be here, to experience this escape with me, but he’s chosen to visit the whorehouse. It’s not my fault he chose that. And I shouldn’t hinder my chance at freedom based on this. For once, I should do something for myself.
I shakily pull myself up over the railing. Hanging on the edge, I stare deeply at the water, my blood running cold at the memories rushing back in my head. It was so cold that day, it’s bound to be even colder right now, with the sun down. And will this plank really keep me afloat? Or will I drown?
It’s a risk I’ll have to take.
I close my eyes and utter a silent prayer, and then - in one split second, I’m gone.
My feet hit the water first, followed by the rest of my body. A loud splash resounds as my body is swallowed whole. I immediately throw my body into motion. And thankfully, the plank does float, violently actually, hitting my chin in the process. I clutch onto it with my life and kick my legs as hard and fast as I can. Through the water brimming my eyes, also burning with the salt, I make my way towards the lights of the town, my heavy breathing and racing heart thundering in my ears.
All too soon, my feet hit sand, and I’m able to walk. But I don’t. I toss away the plank and run as much as I can in knee-length water. I trip several times in my clumsy midst, but I don’t look behind. Relief washes over me, and despite the cold water clinging to my body, I’m enraptured in warmth: I’m safe.
But I can’t collapse onto the sand like I want to. No, I have to go into town - ask for help. I have no doubt they heard me hit the water, so they’re probably heading this way now, and also the whorehouse, to alert the captain. I haven’t got a clue where it’s at, but I know for sure I’ll have to avoid it so I can avoid them.
It almost seems surreal, this lifting, freeing feeling. I’m crying, tears seeping down my cheeks, as I run up the thick sand, kicking it behind me in my wake. When I enter the outskirts of town, my feet meeting stone, I immediately look to find someone - anyone, to help me. But it’s mostly empty.
And just as I turn around the corner, I hear a voice.
“What’s a lass like you doing in the streets alone at this time of the night?”
I spin around so quickly that I’m left dizzy. I can’t see anyone, even though I’m positive the person talking was right behind me.
I turn back around, only to collide with a chest.
“Careful,” the same voice chuckles, steadying me. I look up, only to be met with piercing blue eyes and a shock of golden hair, hidden underneath a feathered hat. I reflexively take a step backwards, unnerved by his closeness. I take a good look at the man. He seems to be in his mid-twenties, probably a respectable marine by the looks of his attire. A sword rests by his hip, at arms reach. Thinking quickly, I grab it and point it in his direction cautiously.
“I mean you no harm,” he promises, holding his hands out in surrender. “Why are you out here all alone, soaking wet?” The man repeats, voice laced with worry. “And who has frightened you this much?”
His tone indicates no trickery. He genuinely seems concerned. Maybe he can help.
“I’ve been stuck on a ship for the last couple of weeks,” I admit finally, slightly breathless. “A pirate ship,” I add, lowering the weapon.
He’s unable to mask his shock.
“A lady like yourself? Stuck with pirates? How did that come to be?” He demands.
“It’s a long story but I don’t have the time to explain. I need to get as far away from the ship as possible--”
“If I may, what’s the ship’s name? Maybe I’ve heard of it and can help you find a place where they never stop to restock.”
I shut my eyes, trying to recall Zayn’s ship’s name.
“Renegade,” I say finally. “The ship’s name is Renegade.”
Something similar to recognition flashes in his eyes.
Loud voices echo nearby. I’m rapidly pulled in alley by the man, and he presses me against the wall.
“Shh,” he whispers, listening intently. My heart is thumping loudly in my chest as the voices shout louder, followed by hurried footsteps.
The stranger and I stay pressed against each other until the voices disappear completely.
“Please step away from me,” I ask, voice wavering.
“I’m terribly sorry. I believe these men who just ran by us were some of Renegade’s crewmen, and I didn’t want you to be found so I didn’t think. I’m not the type to browbeat young ladies such as yourself.”
“So you do know of Renegade?” I enquire hopefully.
“That I do. And I’ll be more than glad to get you as far away from that rotten ship. I can offer you passage to wherever you wish on my own ship. Where would you like to go?”
Where would I even go? Would I even return to Penzance’s ruins?
“I don’t think I want to be on a ship just yet,” I shake my head.
More noises erupt around the corner, footsteps thundering. I instinctively take a step closer to the man, hoping his body will somehow shield mine from view.
“I know it seems everything but appealing,” he whispers to me. “But I think the wisest thing to do, for you, will be to get as far away from them as possible. And leaving the town itself will do just that. They probably wouldn’t even suspect you of doing just that - who knows how long they’ll stay here to look for you?”
Shadows dance along the walls. Somewhere, a group of men burst into laughter.
“And time is of the essence,” the man continues, his blue eyes peering down into mine, looking genuinely sympathetic. “A decision must be made, and it must be made now. But it’s up to you.”
“Okay,” I say, my lips barely moving as more men rush past us. They can easily be innocent townspeople, or the pirates already looking for me. I lock eyes with the blue-eyed man and nod. “I’ll go.”
“Alright then, lass,” he grabs my wrist, his fingers surprisingly warm despite the chilly air, “we’re going to have to move fast, so try and keep up.”
I don’t have time to respond before he roughly yanks me behind him and around the opposite corner. We run through a dark alleyway before appearing under a torch and its flickering light. The street here is empty, but I hear footsteps thudding around the corner.
“My ship isn’t anchored too far,” the man says over his shoulder. “But here’s the thing: we have to pass by the brothel, which I’m sure most of the pirates will be at. We have to make sure none of them see you.”
“How do we do that?” I ask.
He pauses, looking around for a moment, then notices something on the ground. Some kind of clothe, dirty, that smells vaguely like piss. I cringe when he thrusts it towards me.
“Wear this over your head,” he instructs.
“I can’t wear that - who knows where it’s been!”
“Would you rather have Zayn’s men instantly recognize your face and drag you back on the Renegade?” He retaliates, raising an eyebrow, and I swallow thickly.
Pursing my lips, I grab the rag and pull it over my head. But then I stop. Never once had I mentioned Zayn’s name. And I doubt the captain goes around telling his surname to everyone. He hates when others call him that.
“How do you know his name is Zayn?” I get out.
The man seems to have realised he’s made a mistake because his grip tightens on my arm. And then he lugs me behind him, forcefully, so hard that I feel like my shoulder will become disjointed. A hand wrapping around my waist, he pulls me sharply over his shoulder and makes a break down the street, carrying me like I’m nothing but a feather.
The realization dawns on me that I’ve made a grave mistake into trusting this man, but it’s too late -- no matter how hard I flail or kick, his hold is unrelenting and unbreakable. And he moves surprisingly swiftly and fast.
“Help!” I shout, my voice echoing down the now seemingly empty streets. “Someone - ”
The brothel is right there. I recognize the roaring of laughter and talk, and the vague but noticeable smell of alcohol. I get one moment to catch a glimpse through the front windows, and I see a flash of blonde hair, being Niall, with a woman seated on his lap. But our eyes meet, for a split second, as he’s taking another sip of a drink, but he drops it when noticing me.
But by then, I’m gone.
I scream until my throat goes raw, but this doesn’t seem to bother the man kidnapping me. Who is he? Another pirate?
Or someone worse than a pirate?
By the time we reach the port, my throat is dry, and I’m barely able to make any form of noises from screaming so loudly and so much. And at the sight of his ship, which I can’t see at the moment from my back facing it rather than my face, the man slows to a confident walk, assured that I’m rightfully his for the taking.
“Please,” I utter, tears brimming my eyes again, desperation clawing at my chest, “let me go - whatever you want, I promise I don’t have. I have no money, I have no --”
He pulls me from his shoulder, and I hit the ground hard, bruising my knees instantly from the sudden impact. Two other men stand on either side of my kidnapper, and my heart freezes in my chest.
“I don’t want your money,” the blonde man says. “Believe it or not, Zayn is rather predictable. The only reason why he would keep a woman on his ship would be because she’s one of Richald’s relatives. I’m guessing that is exactly what you are.”
I’m still confused as ever by this short-lived, vague explanation, but there’s still something I need to know. Mustering my voice, I ask, “And who are you?”
“Me?” The men beside him chuckle to themselves, as if sharing a private joke, and the man slowly smirks down at me, his eyes glinting. “I’m Captain Blackheart.”