“We've been at this for days!” Mariqah complained, holding the wheel whilst the pirates looted yet another merchant vessel they had just incapacitated, “They should have found us by now! Even by accident!”
“For a pirate, ye sure are eager t'get caught, mad'm,” Mr McLean chortled, carrying a crate of clinking bottles across the deck.
“Jailbait, I'm telling you,” Emmet muttered.
Vasquez climbed on-deck and said, “Alright, she's clear. Cast her off.”
Rope by rope, the pirates seperated Blackwell from the sinking carcass of the merchant vessel, and Mariqah gave the orders so that they could move on.
“This is such a bore,” Mariqah sighed, and then called up to the crow's nest, “Chip! You so much as see the mirage of a hunter, you tell me immediately!”
“Aye, aye, quarter-master!” Chip replied.
Vasquez shook his head and climbed up to stand next to her, “You have a serious problem.”
“How do you not get bored out here?” Mariqah asked.
“Are you still with us, Mariqah?” Vasquez asked, “We just looted three ships! Consecutively! It's not exactly an uneventful life.”
“But still no real challenge, Estaban.”
“The aim of piracy is to gain coin, Mariqah. Not to bite off more than you can chew,” Vasquez snorted, “But I guess that's what the army is about.”
“Kind of, yes. Out here, you just run from what you can't face, but rob what you can. On the battlefield, there's rarely any running from,” Mariqah said, steering the wheel, “The thrill of watching the enemy approach, their numbers curdling your blood as they descend, is an unmatched sensation - rivalled only by the victory. And there's wealth, of course. But it's earned, not stolen.”
“And then I wonder why you're so good in bed.”
Mariqah jerked an elbow into his side and Vasquez scoffed.
“I just wish I had more to do, I guess,” Mariqah said.
“Well, we've gained a lot of resources. As quarter-master, technically you're responsible for dividing the acquired wealth.”
“Arithmetic was not what I had in mind,” Mariqah objected, “I don't even know how pirates share out their wealth. And, anyway, couldn't we just do that when we land in Nassau? I mean, we still don't know how much of the 'resources' we'll need to use. No use in promising-”
“Not a fan of paperwork?” Vasquez interrupted.
“In Masyaf, I hire accountants to do all that,” Mariqah explained.
Vasquez leaned forward, “What do you do with the rest of your days? When you're not killing people?”
“Marching, keeping the horses fit, sparring, dealing with internal politics, watching our borders, cleaning our quarters, training new recruits. The closest I get to paperwork, is reading and writing letters - and I usually put that off until the end of a week.”
“Sounds like a busy life.”
Mariqah smiled, “Never a dull moment.”
“And yet you still can't decide if you want to go back?”
“I do want to go back,” Mariqah replied, frowning immediately, “I'm just not sure they want me back.”
Vasquez touched her shoulder, “I wouldn't know, but from what I've seen from you - I can't imagine why they wouldn't want you back. You seem to have a natural gift for managing trouble, you find piracy - one of the world's most dangerous professions - tedious, and I think I might have problems explaining you're departure to the crew when you decide to leave.”
Mariqah smiled at him, “I don't know if you're trying to make me feel better, or imploring me to stay.”
“A bit of both, if I'm honest,” Vasquez laughed.
Mariqah smiled, “I'm flattered.”
“If you're really bored, though, I have a few ideas that might... excite you,” Vasquez said, suggestively.
Mariqah pushed him away with one hand and laughed, “Save it for later, Romeo. Liam needs rest and you need disciplining.”
“I have a few ideas of my own,” Mariqah admitted, “But until nightfall, keep your bollocks in your breeches.”
“I can try, Mariqah. I can only try,” Vasquez replied.
“Ship sighted off the port-side, madam!” Chip cried from the crow's nest, “She's making reading to fire!”
Mariqah jerked her head in the direction Chip was pointing and smirked.
“Oh, yes!” she said.
“Oh, no...” Vasquez murmured, looking through a spyglass.
The large vessel was a leviathan, huge as it was heavy - lumbering through the ocean towards them. It flew a British flag and Vasquez knew its name - the HMS Reckoning.
“Quick,” Vasquez ordered, climbing down from the quarter-deck, “Loose the mains! Catch the wind! We'll out-run her!”
“What are you doing?” Mariqah snapped, “That's our chance! That's what we've been waiting for!”
“Don't worry, there will be others,” Vasquez hurriedly reassured her.
“I am not letting that beauty over there slip through my fingers!”
“Mariqah,” Vasquez sighed, climbing back up to stand next to her, “Do you have any fucking idea what that ship is? What it might mean for us?”
“If we capture that ship, it could mean-”
“That is not answering my question! That ship belongs to that traitor, Captain Schneider. He has never once failed to capture pirates.”
“And you're going to pass-up a chance to defeat him?”
“My ship, my crew and my freedom are worth more than my pride, Mariqah.”
“But we're well-equipped! The odds are in our favour!”
“Have you seen that beast, you blind-fucking woman!” Vasquez pointed at the ship, “The odds are anything but in our favour!”
“Estaban, we have to try!”
“It's not a risk I'm willing to take.”
Mariqah gazed at him for a long while. She glanced back at the Reckoning that was slipping away with every passing second, “Let me try.”
“What?” Vasquez replied.
“That way you won't lose your ship or your crew. Blackwell is fast enough to pass her by and fire a volley, and I'll hop aboard the other vessel and cause enough trouble - while you keep doing your little hit and run routine.”
“You're insane! I won't let you do that!”
“I know,” Mariqah said and then cried, “Cast the anchor! Now!”
Vasquez was about to object, when she knocked him down and nodded to the rest of the crew. She let go of the wheel so that the ship turned all the way around on the sudden stop, “So I'm not giving you a choice,”
“Mariqah!” Vasquez called after her, as Mariqah left her post and climbed the rigging. She hung from the ropes and watched the ship approach. She smiled to herself and then dived into the water.
The powerful waves beat her this way and that, dropping on her like giant moist tongues. She heard the cries of “Quarter-master overboard!” from Blackwell, but she swam passed it and neared the great beast that was coming towards them. Reckoning was even bigger up-close. Mariqah latched onto the hull as it moved and climbed towards the aft, using the space between wooden panels as hand and footholds. She hurried her way along, knowing that the time for battle was near and she'd rather not be hanging onto the sill of a cannon port-hole. Mariqah got towards the corner of the ship and was about to reach for another panel when a string of explosions fired off to her left. Her feet slipped as the man-of-war was hit and rocked on each impact. Blackwell passed them by, just as she had instructed.
“That was too close,” Mariqah muttered, calming herself down and hauling herself up higher and higher, until she was holding the banister that lined the deck. There were about twenty-five red-coated guards roaming the deck and undoubtedly about forty or fifty more below. There were two scouts above, standing up on the masts - and she had to be especially wary of them. Blackwell was coming back around, and the men aboard the Reckoning were getting prepared to fire a volley of their own. Mariqah used the cannon-fire as enough of a distraction to climb on board. She drew her sword and took out the helmsman immediately. The two guards nearest to her noticed this and charged. Mariqah ducked the swipe of the first and blocked the blow of the second. She smiled, bashing her pommel into the head of the first and sending him reeling back. Starved of blood for so long, the Damascus gleamed in the sunshine as it fended off the blade of the remaining guard. Vasquez was right - Mariqah wouldn't trade her sword for all the world. A gunshot brought her back, as it splintered the wood right next to her foot. The marksmen above had seen her. Mariqah continued to trade blows with the guard, until she managed to catch him from behind and use his body as a shield. He jerked when the bullets hit him. Mariqah threw his body aside, sheathed her sword and pushed passed the soldiers hurrying to fill their cannons, to climb the masts.
“Leave her!” shouted a sergeant, “Leave her, the scouts'll handle it! We've got bigger problems!”
Mariqah smiled. The ship rocked as another volley of cannon-fire rained down. Mariqah held to the post tightly and waited to regain her balance, and then scrambled higher - knowing that a scouts would be waiting for her. So far, she had avoided the bullets of the man on the main-mast. She climbed higher and higher, pulling her weight.
Then she listened.
Listened for the movement of feet, the sound of voice. They were both waiting for her. Apparently, the scout assigned to the main-mast was waiting for her here, with the first.
Perfect, she thought.
As the ship shuddered again, she heard the men lose their footing and regain balance. Excellent. Guessing their location, she reached up and grabbed a leg. Caught by surprise, the man jerked and slipped from the post - falling down and screaming to his doom.
“Show yourself!” said the remaining scout.
Mariqah climbed up behind him, “As you wish,” she said.
He jumped and turned as she drew her sword.
“Stay back!” he said, holding his bayonet-gun in front of him.
“I don't want to hurt you,” she said, “So I suggest that you lay down your arms and climb down in a gentlemanly fashion.”
“Then I'd just like to say,” Mariqah sliced at him, “It's nothing personal, mate.”
He blocked with his musket and backed up to give himself more space. Mariqah parried away the blade and swung low so that her blade sliced his knee. He howled and dropped his gun.
“Again,” Mariqah said, “I'm sorry.”
She pushed him off the ledge and looked away as he fell. She picked up his gun.
She observed the chaos below. She took aim at a stack of gunpowder barrels and fired. A second of silence, before the load erupted into flame. Mariqah grabbed the hook attached to a spool of rope and swung down - dropping down on a kill. She tore out her sword, dripping with gore and turned to meet another assailant.
Oh. So, now she was a big problem?
When she's dispatched him, she stole his sword and lodged the blade into the lock of the hatch - so as to slow the ascent of reinforcements from below. Mariqah threw the onslaught of her attackers away woth the Damascus. A blade sliced into her side and she screamed and killed the man who had hurt her. Someone pulled her hair from behind, and she turned her head - feeling her hair tearing from the roots - so that she could head-butt the man and knock him down.
“Which one of you is Schneider?” she demanded.
“What would you want with him?” asked one of the men.
Mariqah saw the launch of grapple-hooks in the air and they latched onto the banister of the ship.
“What do you think?” she asked, putting her sword away. She touched her side and looked her bloody hand.
“Don't you think you'll be needing that?” the sailor asked her.
“No,” she said, as the pirates climbed aboard, “I think I'm done here.”
Mariqah made her way to the captain's chambers and kicked in the door.
“Schneider?” she asked the two men that were hiding in there. One had the look of a rugged sailor, but the other wore a curly powdered white wig and a very expensive blue coat.
“Governor, I presume?” Mariqah addressed the man in the wig.
The rugged sailor rose and pointed his sword at her, “Stay back.”
Mariqah looked at him, “Put that silly thing away, boy.”
“I'm the one you're looking for. Adrian Schneider. You leave the governor outta this!”
“I was looking for the man with the highest authority. I'm afraid I've lost interest in you, Captain Schneider,” Mariqah turned her attention back to the governor, “And if you want any chance - any chance at all - to get out of this alive and unharmed, I suggest you put away any weapons and allow me to do the talking.”
“And why should we trust you?” Schneider asked.
“In any normal circumstance, I'd ask you not to,” Mariqah said, turning and putting her hands behind her back, “But you simply don't have a choice here. And I think we can all agree that I'm more reliable than pirates.”
Mariqah stepped back out onto the deck and nodded at Vasquez.
He stomped up to her, clenched his fist and pointed at her face, “Don't ever do that again.”
Mariqah chuckled at the look on his face, “You're welcome. And don't worry, I won't.”
He touched her side, “You're hurt,” he murmured.
“Just a scratch.”
“Get some rest in the cabin. I can-”
“Take all the glory?”
“Come on, Mariqah. You know that's not what this is about.”
“I'm not going anywhere until you hear me out.”
Vasquez folded his arms and said, “Make it quick. Because that's more than just a scratch.”
“Estaban, you have to let these men go.”
Vasquez laughed, “That's a good one.”
“I'm not joking.”
Vasquez furrowed his brows, “But... these are the Caribbean's finest hunters. And the Governor of Trinidad! A ransom like that would bring in thousands of escudos!”
“I don't feel comfortable kidnapping these worthless idiots!”
“Well, that might mean something if you were captain. But you aren't.”
“But I am the quarter-master and the helmsman - and, not to mention, you wouldn't have this darling galley if it wasn't for me.”
“Mariqah, the crew would never-”
“You let them go,” Mariqah threatened, “or I'm fighting on their side.”
“Oh, don't get all heroic on me, princesa.”
“Estaban, there is one sword blocking a swarm of armed - albeit, ill-trained - British soldiers, and its lying right next to my foot. I don't like your odds.”
“You just fought against them. There's no way-”
“I also just jumped into the sea, risked climbing in front of the muzzles of cannons and tried to single-handedly take a man-of-war. Again. Do you really want to test me?”
Vasquez touched her forehead, “I don't think your feeling well.”
Mariqah slapped his hand away, “Estaban, let them go!”
“Mariqah, these men are wealth! I can't allow you to just send it all away!”
“Fine,” Mariqah huffed, “We'll keep Schneider.”
Vasquez looked unimpressed, “Just Schneider?”
“Aye, should bring in a heavy enough ransom.”
“Oh, no, no, no, no, no - Schneider is not for ransoming. Schneider is for killing. He's a traitor.”
“Well, you got marooned, so technically - so are you.”
“Don't change the subject!” Vasquez snapped, “We aren't talking about me.”
“Very true, so let's get down to the crux of the matter: We keep Schneider, you send the rest of this shipless crew away and we sail to Nassau to hang and/or ransom Schneider. And, just to remind you, you owe me so much. That is my final offer.”
Vasquez sighed, “Have it your way, Mariqah.”
“Now get yourself to the-”
“My job's not done here.”
Vasquez slapped his forehead, “Urgh.”
“Governor,” Mariqah said, “I'll have to ask you to ask your men to drop their weapons and proceed to the longboats. And the rest of your men, who are eagerly awaiting below-decks to feast on our blood, should be told the same. Captain Schneider, I'm afraid you will have to be escorted to the brig.”
“We don't take orders from you!” protested one of the sailors. The others chanted in agreement.
“Fine,” Mariqah said, gesturing to Vasquez, “Kill them.”
When the pirates began to advance, the sailors surrendered and did as they were asked.
“Are you done now?” Vasquez asked Mariqah.
Mariqah glanced at him, “I don't know. Am I?”
Vasquez nudged her with his elbow, “Go on. Go fix yourself up. You could use some rest. Undisturbed rest.”
“But who's going to-?”
“Don't worry about it! You can't do everything, Mariqah.”