“I should have known this was coming...” Vasquez muttered, as Mariqah clapped him in irons.
“Don't be so dramatic,” she winked at him.
He smiled up at her, “What is your bulbous mind brewing, eh?” he asked, sitting comfortably in his seat within his cabin. He pulled his hands apart, to test the strength of the chains, “Are you handing me in?”
“Estaban, you know what I'm going to say.”
“To trust you?”
“To trust me,” Mariqah nodded, “Just, look like your resisting arrest when Liam brings you out, hmm? The entire crew knows the plan.”
“And you still refuse to tell me?”
“Well, I want it to look real.”
Vasquez furrowed his brows, “What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means: you're a prisoner, act like one!” Mariqah snapped.
She pinched his cheek and stepped out of the cabin.
“Chip!” she called up the main-mast, “You'd better raise a black flag before Nassau starts panicking too much.”
“Aye, quarter-master!” he replied from above.
Mariqah went to her place at the helm and watched as the island expanded the closer they got. She gave the orders to prepare to dock and they weighed anchor. The first thing that hit her - God... It was the smell. The smell of rotten everything. Or was it the combined bodily odour of a crowd of filthy, disgusting pirates? Mariqah sighed. It wasn't the most pressing of matters, but she doubted she could get used to that.
But the issue of her success was at the fore.
She didn't need to climb down to know the look on the faces of all the afrighted pirates. She could feel the awe and dumbstruckedness from where she stood. A plank was lowered on the port side and Mariqah climbed down to see their looks anyway - two-hundred or so eyeballs gawking at her as she climbed down from the most formidable man-of-war in the West Indies.
Callum was there, standing in front of all the rest. Mariqah was unable to discern his mood from the look on his face.
“Mari...” he cleared his throat and said, “You gave us quite a scare. So... come to gloat, have ye?”
Mariqah smiled at him, “I thought I just did,” she said, “No, we're, uh, here to speak with the harbour-master. You know... get some supplies and that.”
He paused and took off his hat, “Mari...” he said in a softer tone, “I'm... I don't like how we left off, when last we spoke... Ye we're right - I don't have the right to-”
“It's alright, Callum,” she replied, embracing him, “It's alright, just... stop.”
He tensed at first - as if surprised by her reaction - but then hugged her back, “I'm sorry,” he finished, “And the money's all yours, if ye still want it.”
“I appreciate the offer, but... I'm not quite finished.”
“Mari, ye've brought home the Reckonin'! His Majesty's finest vessel! Sod Tortuga, this is the greatest boon that's shone on us since the beginnin' o' the Republic.”
“Stop flattering me, Callum. True or not, I'm staying true to my word. I'm winning back Tortuga.”
“Quit while you're ahead, Mari! You've done more than enough, given the circumstances.”
“Like I said, Callum: I'm not quite finished.”
“Suit yourself,” Callum sighed, the typicality of it making him grin, “And... Vasquez?” he asked with caution.
“I have it sorted,” Mariqah said and then raised her voice so that all could hear her, “You'll be pleased to know that I've found both Captain Estaban Vasquez and captured your traitor Captain Adrian Schneider.”
“Captain Vasquez?” she heard Morgan's voice, “You've brought him here? Alive?”
Mariqah spotted him and his oily black curls in the crowd, “Aye. I'm afraid so, Mr Morgan.”
“Captain Morgan!” he spat.
“I refuse to address you in such a way.”
“In any case, Vasquez is a traitor to the code. No better and no worse than Schneider!”
“Which is why I've come to propose a trade,” Mariqah said. She nodded in Mr McLean's direction and had him usher Vasquez into the daylight.
“Let me go, you fucking piece of shit!” he hollered, tossing his arms this way and that, trying to struggle out of Liam's grip, “What is this? First fucking Morgan and now you too, Mariqah! I expected better!”
Mariqah had to say she was impressed by his performance.
“On your knees, cretin!” Mr McLean shouted, pushing Vasquez onto the ground next to Mariqah.
“Go and get Schneider,” Mariqah instructed.
“You'll pay for this, Mariqah, I swear it!” Vasquez threatened, spitting on her shoes.
When Schneider was brought forth from the brig, he was more resigned to his fate: his shoulders bent forward, his head hung low and the shadow of gloom darkened his countenance. It reminded Mariqah of the slave market, somewhat. He was also pushed to the ground on her other side, and didn't say anything.
“Now, if I have your attention,” Mariqah said, “Like I said, I'd like to propose an exchange - one traitor's life for another. I vouch for the life and reputation of Estaban Vasquez and leave Adrian Schneider subject to your will. Sound fair to you?”
“Plague and perish!” Morgan barked, his crew clamouring after him, “You can't possibly be serious!”
Mariqah looked nonchalant, “Of course, you could kill Vasquez and I could return Schneider to one of the other major ports where the British would surely recover him - given his exceptional skill at catching you all and having you killed. Would you prefer that?” she queried.
“You wouldn't dare!” Morgan retorted.
“Actually, I have the upper hand here. I've shown clear capability to be able to best Captain Schneider and in a sense of honour or debt - I doubt he'd be hunting me. I couldn't care less about any of you and I am not going to give you both traitors, as simple as that. So, aye, Morgan - I would dare.”
“This exchange would make you a traitor also,” Morgan pointed out.
“Well, yes, if I was a pirate,” Mariqah pointed back, “But unfortunately for you, I'm not. I'm hired help - and I'm bound by no dusty old pirate codes. So, what will it be?” Mariqah looked to Callum. “Vasquez or Schneider?”
“Well! Schneider has given us more trouble than Vasquez...” Callum mused.
“I'll put it to the vote,” Callum announced and faced the crowd, “All in favour o' the life o' Captain Adrian Schneider, say aye!”
A feeble chorus came from Vasquez's old crew.
“Alright. All in favour o' the life o' Captain Estaban Vasquez, say aye!”
This was received with a much more enthusiastic response.
“It's settled then,” Callum announced, “Captain Estaban Vasquez is from this point forward redeemed o' all his past transgressions. The slate cleaned and his position here restored.”
Mariqah bent down and freed Vasquez of his bonds.
“Were you losing faith in me?” she asked him.
“I'll admit, you had me a little... worried,” he said, touching his neck.
“Now... What to do with Schneider,” Callum continued, “A simple hangin' wouldn't pay nearly enough for all his crimes.”
“You really intend to kill him?” Mariqah asked.
“Mari,” Callum laughed, “He's had dozens o' us tried and hanged, he's diminished our growth in the West Indies-”
“You don't think he had his reasons?” Mariqah snapped.
“Ye've spared one traitor, Mari. Don't push your luck wi' this one,” Callum turned away as Schneider was ushered towards the Town Square.
“Why don't you ransom him?” Mariqah called after Callum.
“What?” Callum scoffed.
“You said you've had financial setbacks on this floating cesspit you call and island, so why don't you ransom Schneider?” Mariqah argued, “Wouldn't that serve you better than a corpse?”
“Ransom a traitor? So he can hunt us again?” Callum asked, as if checking Mariqah was serious.
“So ransom him with conditions!” Mariqah said, “Get it on paper-”
Callum became red-faced and shook his head, “Mariqah, that's not how it works here-”
“I can make it work here!”
Callum sighed, “Fine. How?”
“Set a price and I'll show you,” Mariqah said.
“Ten thousand reales!” cried one pirate.
“His weight in gold!” cried another.
“Two times his weight in gold!” cried a third.
“What about five times his weight in gold?” Mariqah offered.
“Aye!” they all cried.
“Is that settled?”
“Good, then you'll have no trouble accepting a ransom that is worth ten times Mr Schneider's weight in gold!”
“What are you doing?” Vasquez asked.
“Liam,” Mariqah instructed, “Retrieve my share of the spoils from the ship and hand it to Callum, please.”
“You're bailin' him out?” Callum asked.
“Yes, I am. He will serve in Masyaf. Away from here. Until my business here is done, Adrian Schneider (formerly Captain) shall be under my protection. Should any harm come to him, such a person or persons shall be answerable to me,” Mariqah said, “And don't expect me to go easy on any of you,” she went up to Schneider and freed him of his bonds.
“I will not serve under a scoundrel,” he muttered.
“I'm not this kind of scoundrel,” she assured him.
“Do you know why I became a pirate hunter?”
“No, but I can guess,” Mariqah scoffed, “It might be wealthy but it's not the most... glamorous life, is it?”
Schneider didn't respond.
“You'll lead a more honest life in Masyaf, more honourable. And if you don't like it, then you're free to go.”
He gave her a look, “...Really?”
“Well, so long as you don't come back here. That's idiocy worth a hanging,” Mariqah scoffed.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked.
Mariqah gave him a long look, “I do what good I can,” she murmured, “Go get a drink, probably scared you half to death.”
“Oh, ha-ha!” he replied.
“I'm generous,” Vasquez said, watching Schneider leave, “But I'm not that generous.”
“It's okay, Estaban,” Mariqah said, “You don't need to pay anything.”
“What is happening? With you?” he asked, perplexed and humorously bewildered, “What was that about?”
Mariqah looked up at him. She smiled, at a loss of words. “I was... cutting loose my burdens.”
Vasquez raised a brow, his smile sinking slowly.
Callum interrupted them, “I'm thoroughly confused,” he said, “Would ye mind explainin' this to me, Mari? Why would ye spare that no-good, loose-tongued cunt!”
Mariqah looked away from Vasquez, “Well! Um... Everyone - even the craziest of us - deserves a second chance. Don't you think?”
“But a traitor! He would've been hanged anywhere else for the same crimes!”
“What happened to pirates being free men - to do as they like and be who they please?”
“I doubt Schneider did what he's done out of spite or malice. Perhaps he just had a change of heart, fatigued with the lot handed to him.”
“Oh, like ye could possibly know that!”
“I do,” Mariqah said, “You know I do.”
Callum clamped his mouth shut.
“Now, I wouldn't give me a second chance - but you did. Didn't you?”
“Mari...” Callum hesitated, “It's not the same thing.”
“Either way. He won't bother you anymore. I'll make him a mercenary. We could use a man who knows how to read maps, navigate stars and command a ship.”
Callum gave her a suspicious look.
“What?” Mariqah asked.
“What's he done to ye?” Callum asked her.
“What are you talking about? Who?”
“Vasquez, o' course. What's he done to ye?”
Mariqah looked back at Vasquez, who just shrugged.
Callum smiled, “Well done, mate!” he laughed, putting an arm around Vasquez's shoulders and shaking him, “Ye've done a thing that I, her uncle, her brother and all her good friends've failed miserably! Well done!”
“Excuse me?” Mariqah said, furrowing her brows.
“Er, you're welcome?” Vasquez said, feeling awkward.
“Enough dronin', we've the Reckonin' in our docks and heroes in our company! Drinks all round!” Callum cried.
The whole island was swept up in celebration - drinks being poured for all and at the expense of the Nassau's funds. It bothered Mariqah some, but she couldn't be bothered to argue with Callum anymore. Though he had some talent for leadership, organisation and order clearly weren't a very strong skills of his. Mariqah spent most of her time sitting at a bonfire hosted by Callum himself, bored out of her mind listening to pirates tell stories in verse one after another.
“Hey,” she heard Vasquez say.
Mariqah turned to see him approaching from behind, “Hey,” she replied, taking the stick of rolled tobacco he offered her, “Where have you been?”
Vasquez took his seat on a rock and lit his roll and then passed his tinderbox to Mariqah, “Sleeping,” he said.
Mariqah laughed, lighting the roll. She pulled on the stick and puffs of smoke left her nostrils, “Not enjoying the celebrations?”
Vasquez made a face, “Not really in the mood for them.”
Mariqah's face softened, “Oh.”
Vasquez scoffed, “Don't pity me. I'm fine.”
“I would have assumed you'd do everything you could to make me stay,” Mariqah expressed, drinking in more fumes.
Vasquez smiled, “I wanted to, I'll admit. But... you don't fit in here. You're... too different. You'd never learn to be happy here, princesa.”
“And my happiness means something to you?”
“About as much as mine means to me,” Vasquez admitted, “You may not realise it, but you've changed me.”
“Ah, well, men are more willing to change for women.”
Vasquez smiled and nodded, “Especially women they love.”
Mariqah looked away and sighed.
“Hey, don't. It's not your fault,” Vasquez said.
Mariqah scoffed sadly, “Everyone I know has told me that.”
He laughed, “I know. About time I said it, eh?”
“I'm sorry, Estaban.”
“Don't be. I'll be fine. I am fine.”
Mariqah felt cold. She threw her stick away and rubbed her hands together, “And thank you, for... listening.”
Vasquez took her hands and warmed them in his own, “Believe me, you're welcome.”
They looked into each others eyes for the longest time, thinking and feeling nothing - trapped in the moment, lost in the act. Mariqah knew she had saved him from many losses, but she began to wonder whether she had doomed Vasquez to another, much deeper loss. Even if she asked, he wouldn't tell her. She wanted to say so much. She wanted to profess that in a different life, perhaps they would have fit perfectly together. She even considered offering him a job in Masyaf. But the sound of her voice was caught in her throat. The sentiments she had would just seem empty and meaningless - and possibly hurt him even more.
“Besides,” Vasquez said, breaking the trance, “It's not like you're leaving right now. There's still one adventure left to be had, I think.”
“Yes, one last hurrah,” Mariqah smiled, looking away, “I will get this out of the way though: I'm going to miss you, Estaban.”
Vasquez laughed, “I doubt that you'll ever be able to forget me and my... charisma. But I'll miss you too.”
Mariqah huffed, looking back at the bonfire, “Don't you pirates ever get tired of singing?”
“There's no singing in Masyaf?”
“There is. But not this much.”
“Well, unless you want to pay for an orgy - this the only entertainment we have: some song, some drink and a bit of tobacco.”
“Don't you boys find sword-play entertaining?” Mariqah suggested.
“Urgh, soldiers...” Vasquez muttered.
“Well, excuse me!”
“Admit it: you're a fucking bunch of meat-headed brutes!”
Mariqah looked offended, “Better than being a crew of smelly, stinking nancies that run from everything!”
“And you're brave fools that redefine the term 'madness'!”
“Oh, rich! Coming from a complete coward!”
“I'm responsible,” Vasquez retorted indignantly.
“Pfft! You're a chicken.”
“Well, at least I'm not a bull.”
“How in the world is that a bad thing?”
“A bull is an incredibly stupid animal.”
“I think you might be referring to yourself.”
They both laughed.
“I'm definitely going to miss this, Mariqah,” Vasquez finished his stick of tobacco. He threw the butt under his boot and stepped on it to put it out.
Mariqah sighed, “I was wrong about you.”
She scoffed, “Nothing.”
“Come on, don't make me pull it out of you.”
“When we met, I thought you were a lunatic that I just couldn't work with,” Mariqah said, “And now... I wouldn't call you anything short of a very, very close friend.”