Mariqah had a long-standing hatred for heat.
It didn't matter that half her heritage belonged to a blistering hot country, or that her main fortress was situated in a blistering hot Syrian desert - when Mariqah travelled, she very much preferred sloshing through muck caused by a continuum of cold torrential rain, than even beginning to perspire in the heat. But there was little doing about the weather, so Mariqah ignored her irritation, ran her fingers through her short, sweat-damp hair and tied it up on her head. The trickle of dusty light that streamed through the small window of her cabin showed a far-too-bright and sunny day, so she grumbled and got up out of bed.
She scowled as she pulled on a corset, fixing the cords so as to keep her form solid and in place. Her scarred back had healed from a past transgression, but the whisper of pain always remained whenever she fitted her clothing. Mariqah huffed, put on a pair of dark trousers, a long-sleeved loose white tunic and a sleeveless green jacket with yellow trimmings. She put her sword belt over one shoulder and fixed it in place by tying another belt around her waist.
She drew her sword, the Damascus, out of its scabbard partially and muttered, “Been a while since you've seen the light, let alone blood. But things'll be looking up for you soon, I hope. Callum says we're nearly there.”
Finally, Mariqah pulled on her boots, fixed the buckles and stepped out of her cabin onto the deck of a vessel that was gliding across the Caribbean sea named the Tyrant.
Mariqah squinted at the light of the sun, gulls above her cawing and flapping. Not a cloud in the cerulean sky. Damn it, but this was going to be irritating for her! Mariqah sighed, putting her hands to her hips, wondering why she'd ever agreed to come this far for so little, when a hand clapped her on the shoulder and she turned to greet its owner.
Captain Callum O'Brien laughed at the look on her face and said, “You're up nice and early!”
He was mocking her, of course. It was almost noon.
“I would have been out earlier,” Mariqah replied, “But this absurd heat wasn't nice to sleep in. Besides, there was no-one to see me go about my errands in my cabin naked, so I stayed holed up in there.”
Callum shook his head, his untrimmed blonde locks shaking as he did so. He didn't know if Mariqah's statement was a deliberate provocation of his feelings or if she was just joking, “Do you've any idea how absurd it is for you t'be sayin' somethin' like that?” he asked, “You, who've travelled the world through shingles and shit, murderin' every man and woman you've been paid t'murder?”
“Why is it absurd? Even a mercenary can have likes and dislikes.”
“Mercenaries don't complain.”
Mariqah gestured theatrically, “And this pirate ship smells of tulips and roses.”
Callum chuckled, steering her towards the helm, “Ye'll be off soon. Tortuga is just a stretch from here.”
“That's what you said yesterday!” Mariqah protested, “Exactly what you said yesterday, actually.”
“Aye, well, I am dealin' with you, now aren't I?”
“Shut up, Callum.”
He stood at the helm beside his helmsman, a smile on his face and a twinkle of laughter in his bright blue eyes, “All the same, my associate isn't goin' t'be all that happy.”
“Well, no, of course not,” Mariqah quipped, “Not if he's a part of your rum-guzzling, whore-fucking, thief cult. That doesn't sound like the most happy lifestyle.”
Callum's face soured immediately, “Mariqah.”
“Sorry. Go on.”
“Captain Vasquez asked for mercenaries. And all I've come with is you.”
“I'm a mercenary.”
“Mercenaries. Mercenariesss. More than one. Or, in your desert language, more than two!”
“Oi, I captured a whole vessel for you that you still use and named in my honour - despite my protestations - all by myself. When you have me, do you really need an army?”
“First of all, you think killin' sailors is like swattin' flies-”
“-And second of all, Captain Vasquez is expectin' more than a woman with a sword, so he'll demand more than a woman with a sword. And he's not the friendliest type, Mari.”
“Well, I can make him friendly. I'm good at that.”
Callum chuckled, “You can try, I suppose. But he isn't somethin' you've quite seen before. Well... unless you've looked in a mirror.”
“Captain O'Brien!” Mariqah said with a false shock, gasping, “Are you implying that somewhere in this sweltering cesspit, there is a man that can somehow equate with the likes of me!”
“To be entirely frank with you, Mari, I'm not sure why you didn't come with more men.”
“A couple of sailors and powder kegs hardly calls for a large army.”
“Don't get too cocky.”
“You know I'm just kidding, Callum,” Mariqah smiled, leaning against the banister, “Besides, the rivalry has its uses - between us soldiers and you sailors.”
“Makes negotiation tough, though. Like your current situation.”
Mariqah shrugged, “Eh, it's a small price to pay.”
“Mari,” Callum said, folding his arms, “Stop beatin' around the bush. What's really troublin' you? It's not like you, t'come alone. Your greatest strength is in collective force, and certainly not in your individual rage.”
Mariqah didn't speak for a moment, “Who says it's rage?”
“Well, it was just an example, but... perhaps now it's a fact.”
“Don't get too cocky.”
“Mari...” Callum sighed, putting a hand on her shoulder, “It wasn't your fault.”
Mariqah didn't reply for a moment.
She didn't believe that. There was a wall in her mind that made it impossible for her to believe that. Consequences didn't appear out of nowhere, after all.
“You should've given yourself some time, some rest,” Callum continued.
“I don't have time or time for rest. I need money and resources, and those things don't grow on trees, you know. My last campaign was a complete blunder - I spent so much for nothing in return. I'm as good as broke and I don't - and never will - expect my men to pay for it. That's why I agreed to come,” Mariqah looked at Callum, “And you're the one that proposed this job anyway.”
“Aye, because I assumed you'd hand it off t'some o' your men, rather than insist on goin' it alone!”
Mariqah turned away, “They've earned and deserve rest, Callum.”
“Well, so do-”
“They aren't leaders with headaches for dreams and heartaches for nightmares. They have time. They need time. I don't.”
Callum put his head in one hand, “Ah, I never should have asked you to come,” he muttered.
Mariqah sighed and stepped away, “Is that the place?” she asked, jutting her chin out to indicate an tropical island with a golden beach at its front but a twisting jungle in its centre.
“Aye,” Callum said, “We'll weigh anchor here and I'll see you off.”
Mariqah gave him a look, “You're not going to stay?”
“Heh, you're not the only one with headaches and heartaches, love. I've business in Nassau to 'tend to. Once you've finished up whatever you plan t'do here, just ask Captain Vasquez t'send me a note and I'll come for you.”
“Fair enough,” Mariqah said, climbing down to the main-deck and getting into a long-boat. Callum gave the orders to his men and got in with her. He grabbed both oars and, as soon as they were lowered into the water, he rowed them to shore. Mariqah stared at her distorting reflection in the water as they approached their destination.
How much easier was it to be an inanimate thing - like water or dust? Easier than it was to be her, of that she was sure.
“Seems awfully quiet,” Mariqah muttered, climbing out of the boat as soon as it was beached and putting her hands on her hips. She kicked at the sand beneath her feet and waited for Callum to step out before he led across the beach.
“Aye,” Callum said, “There's been some British trouble on these isle, and Captain Vasquez has his hands full dealin' with them. The beach would be littered with his men and their things otherwise.”
“Do you have any idea where he's hiding then?”
The blast of a trumpet sounded and Callum said, “I've a feelin' that it won't be long before-”
“Get them!” came a howl.
A wall of flesh slammed again Mariqah's body before she could even register what had happened. The sound of shouting and cursing was everywhere, and fists and feet alike were crashing into Mariqah's anatomy from all directions.
“Imperialists!” cried a single voice which silenced all the others, “Colonialists! Fucks!”
Mariqah swore as another foot jabbed into her side. Finding her wits, she grabbed her assailant's leg and bit down on it. The man shrieked, and the others jumped back to renew their assault.
Mariqah kicked a man's knee in as he charged towards her and socked another in the groin before she got up and said, “Can I at least understand why I'm being attacked?”
On hearing her voice, there was a pause before the men backed away.
“What do you think you are doing?” said that loud angry voice.
It emerged from behind the screen of confused attackers, until the owner pushed some of his men out of the way and stood before her. He was a tall man, with a dishonest face - a clean shaven head and a well-kept goatee so far as pirates go. He wore a sleeveless red tunic and loose breeches and there were at least six pistols on his person. From his accent, he sounded Spanish.
“A woman, sir,” said one of his men.
“You think I could give a fuck? Send this Loyalist floating back to were she came from!”
Mariqah looked around for Callum, who was sitting on the ground, rubbing his forehead, “I'm not a colonialist. I'm not even entirely British.”
“Likely story,” said the man, walking up to her. He was at least a head taller than Mariqah.
“If I was a British colonialist, I doubt we'd be having this conversation,” Mariqah said in a cold voice.
The man narrowed his eyes, but didn't respond.
“Besides,” Mariqah went to Callum and helped him up, “Didn't you ask this man to find you mercenaries? He's the one who brought me here for your sake.”
Callum swayed slightly as he got up, holding his hat with one hand, “Captain Vasquez! Another warm welcome, I see!”
Vasquez held the bridge of his nose, “My apologies, Captain O'Brien,” he said, taking Callum's hand and shaking it briskly, “We've fallen on some hard times.”
“Hard times indeed! You nearly flattened your help!”
“Speak for yourself,” Mariqah muttered.
“Again, sorry,” Vasquez said, “So where is this 'help'?”
Callum gave Mariqah a look, “Told you.”
“What?” Vasquez scoffed, gesturing to Mariqah, “You can't possibly have me believe that this is it?” he laughed humourlessly for a moment before his face hardened, “You're serious? You're fucking serious! I ask for fucking mercenaries and you bring me one woman?”
Callum sighed and clapped a hand on Mariqah's shoulder, “Trust me, Vasquez - ye won't need more'an this one woman.”
“Well, excuse me if I withhold my bloody enthusiasm! This is a mockery! As if asking for fucking soldiers wasn't humiliating enough!”
“Vasquez, I think this woman-”
“This "woman" has a name,” Mariqah said, “And I am more than capable of what you think.”
“I know who you are, Ms de Saint-Omer,” Vasquez said, folding his arms, “We hear stories. But a story is not something I'm going to put my money on.”
Mariqah looked at Callum, “I came here for money.”
“I might have gladly given you some, had you brought more than just yourself! There is a whole fort to destroy! What am I going to do, eh? Shoot you at the walls and hope that knocks it down?”
“Then we seem to be at an impasse. Callum, I'm going back to the ship.”
“Wait, wait, look,” Callum put his hands to his head, “Vasquez, Mariqah is the only mercenary out in the wide, wide world who would aid us and she's going through a rough patch-”
“Rough patch?” Vasquez barked, “Have you looked around the whole fucking island! She isn't the only one! I am not paying a pebble for her!”
“You don't have a choice!” Callum shouted, “Redcoats will clear this place o' you in less than a month unless we do somethin' about it and Mariqah is the best repellent for the British that I know of! So shut your gob and work with what you're given!”
“O'Brien, hermano, calm your fucking cock for a second and use your head - a fortress! A fortress needs to be completely flattened and I have one woman,” Vasquez raised a finger and shook in Callum's face as if that would forward a point, “One woman that will, what? Fuck them all out? I am not paying the price that we agreed.”
“Fine. I'll pay. But you have to work with her.”
“Then sod Tortuga! You all are doomed!”
Vasquez clenched his teeth, grinding them and shaking with hot fury, “Fine-”
“That's quite alright,” Mariqah said, “I'm not all that inclined to work with you either,” she turned away and walked towards the boat.
Callum flailed in irritation, “Mari! For God's sake, what now!”
“I'm not wanted here.”
“Aye, you're needed here!”
Mariqah looked away.
“All that talk about bein' broke and needin' money-”
“I don't need your charity, Callum. If Vasquez isn't going to pay-”
“Just listen to yourself! Nobody's goin' believe the shite that's droppin' from your lips! They need your help and I know that they're not showin' it, but-”
“Callum, I want to go home.”
“You can't. I'm not goin' t'take you home.”
“You won't sit and rest, so you have t'get up and fight - you can't not do either!”
“They don't want me here.”
Callum sighed, “Mari, I need you to free Tortuga for me.”
“You mean like Richard needed me to free Bengal for him?”
“Is that how you see me? As a Richard? Don't you trust me?”
Mariqah looked away.
Still no response.
“I don't know, Callum!”
“I need you to do this. There's no-one else.”
Mariqah furrowed her brows and shook her head, “This is a mistake.”
“Mari, I know you're still hurtin' but it's not goin' t'go away by you sittin' around and mopin' about it.”
“I don't need your lectures.”
Mariqah paused, “Will I get my pay?”
“You'll get double.”
Callum raised a hand, “It's alright.”
Mariqah sighed and said, “Fine. I'll work with your lunatic pirate friend.”
Callum look relieved and laughed, “I did warn you.”