Frost and Fire

An immediate short story to follow the completion of Maverick :D ***** Cover by AldrinHD

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17. 16

Mariqah sat fuming in her bonds, leaning against the wall and not even bothering to struggle. It had been three days straight. But, to Commodore Eastwick's credit, she had been fed well - fed by the soldiers themselves - even if the gag on her mouth was always replaced after she was done eating. And what minor conversation she was allowed was often entertained by the Commodore. 
Apparently, he was something of a fan.
It made Mariqah wonder, and develop a certain respect for the old man. 
She watched as Commodore Eastwick worked at his desk, scribbling notes and checking letters. 
“It is rather different to have a new person in my chambers,” he said, “These guards can be so easily ignored. But you,” he scoffed, “not so much.”
Mariqah rolled her eyes.
“See! That! I'm not even looking at you, but I know you just rolled your eyes. You have an aura, an air of... authority - as if you can be understood just by being somewhere and feeling a certain way. It's no wonder that so many have taken an interest in you,” Eastwick went on, “Ah! Pity you had to leave the service of your own country to the scrappings and scrapings you currently throw yourself to. A pity, indeed. I have no love for you, but you are a very remarkable young woman, Mariqah. I just thought I'd make that clear,” he looked towards her. He laughed at the sight of her - she was using her tongue to roll down the cloth covering her mouth.
Mariqah spat.
“Good show!” laughed the Commodore, clapping his hands, and shaking his head as one of the guards came forward to replace the gag.
“Do you have any interest at all in me? Or are you just saying things?” she asked.
“You could say my curiosity is piqued.”
Mariqah offered, “Let me know what I want to know, and I'll give your thoughts some fodder to chew.”
“Ignorance is bliss, Mariqah. Savour it in your last few days, it might do you some good.”
“Bliss is an illusion. I'd rather you told me.”
“What difference would it make to you? You'll know, soon enough.”
“I could ask you the same question - in a few seconds or a few days from now, what does it matter? I want to know who's warranting my capture all the same. And you'll lose nothing by telling me.”
“Mm... Tempting as the offer is, I don't think I'll reveal a thing just yet.”
“Why not?”
“To know something you don't.”
“Well, in that case, you'd better savour it. It's a rare occasion in which someone might know something I don't.”
Commodore Eastwick stroked his chin, “Answer me this, though: how did you even get into the army? The Regulars very rarely accept women into their service.”
“It's like you said, Commodore - nothing is free. You don't give me what I want, I won't give you what you want.”
“Oh! Drat!” Eastwick cursed mockingly, slapping a fist into his palm in feigned frustration, “Ah, well, I suppose I should have seen that coming,” he laughed, “You'd better get some rest, Mariqah. If what you've claimed is true and Captain Vasquez decides to attack today, then I'm afraid we'll have to deal with him swiftly before we send you on your way.”
Mariqah smiled, “He promised me he wouldn't be late.”
The Commodore paused and, for once, seemed to take her seriously. He turned to Mariqah and said, “Was that a threat?”
Mariqah grinned and didn't say anything.

Eastwick stood up and strode up to the bars of her cell, “What do you know?”
“Who's issuing the bounty against me?” Mariqah retorted.
Eastwick straightened, “We seem to be at an impasse.”
“Are we? It's not much of one, Commodore,” Mariqah said and repeated, “You'll lose nothing by telling me what I want to know.”
“You don't know what I'll lose,” he said.
“I know what you'll lose if I don't tell you what I know.”
“Don't get cocky, Mariqah,” Eastwick said, turning away.
“Fair enough. But I'll have you know - while pirates and mercenaries don't often get along, they make quite a good team when forced to work together.”
“What?” the Commodore said, his voice quiet and still, suddenly cold and bewildered - all at the same time.
“I think you know,” was Mariqah's reply.
He turned back around sharply and spat, “I will have you killed, Mariqah!”
Mariqah was unmoved, “Oh? And what about the bounty?”
Commodore Eastwick remained angered for a while longer, before he composed himself - straightening his back and putting the tips of his fingers together, “You will be punished. The man that wants you didn't exactly say he wanted you in mint condition.”
Mariqah snorted, “I was never in mint condition to begin with. In any case, it's much too late for torture.” 
“What do you mean?”
Mariqah smiled, “Look out of your window,” she said, shuffling into a corner and getting comfortable, “The cavalry has arrived.”

Commodore Eastwick rushed to the window and sighed, “My dear girl, the only ship I can see is the His Majesty's Reckoning. Commandeered, I'll have you know, by only the finest pirate-hunter this side of the West Indies, Captain Adrian Schneider.”
“Oh. Is it, your Excellency?” Mariqah asked, stretching out her legs.
Eastwick looked at her for a moment and then chortled, “You don't honestly expect me to believe this bluff, do you?”
“What bluff?”
Eastwick held his side, “I'll admit, you almost had me worried there.”
“Did I?”
“Oh, enough already, Mariqah! No-one likes a sore loser.”
“Indeed,” Mariqah said, “But I must ask you...”
“Anything, dear Mariqah.”
Mariqah paused and looked at Commodore Eastwick - the ghost of a smile adorning her scarred lip, “What hue flies on the flag of His Majesty's Reckoning?”

The crash of cannon fire exploded not far left of the Commodore's chambers. 

Dust sprinkled from the ceiling and the fortress seemed to rumble on the impact. The guards within Eastwick's chamber rushed out to examine the situation, rifles raised and loaded. 
The Commodore himself raced to the window and screamed, “To stations!” before whirling back on Mariqah, “You!” he sneered, enraged - nostrils flared and cheeks flushed.
Mariqah stood up slowly and spoke in her calmest tone, “Let me out, Commodore.”
The Commodore scoffed, not believing the woman's audacity, “And let you win?” he said, “Have you taken leave of your syphilitic senses? Do you think I am so bereft of logic?”
“You've already lost, Excellency,” Mariqah said, “Half your men are on the east side of Tortuga and your remaining forces do not stand a chance against Vasquez's Reckoning.”
“They're pirates! Cowards! They won't take the risk!”
“In all honesty, Excellency, I would agree with you. But in this instance... I must beg to differ.”
The sound of mortar fire and the cries of death and agony raged around them.
“What are you talking about?” Eastwick demanded, holding his head and pacing about his quarters.
“This was not my idea,” Mariqah explained, “Had Vasquez decided to follow my idea, you might have stood a chance. But this is his plot, I merely followed through. And believe me when I say that I've never met a man more pig-headed and hard-minded than Estaban Vasquez.”
“You, you are lying! This can't be true!”
“Oh, Commodore,” Mariqah said, as further eruptions shook the foundations of the fortress, “You said it yourself: no-one likes a sore loser.”
“Do not mock me, you caniving bitch! Urgh!” 
Mariqah ignored his curses and said, “Free me, Commodore Eastwick, and surrender - and I will vouch for you. Make sure you and yours come to no harm.”
Eastwick threw up his hands, out of ideas and running low on time and patience, “And what reason do I have to trust you, hmm? You who lulled me into this trap!”
“You sprung this trap on yourself, Excellency. You should learn not to attack pirates with very persuasive friends. Tortuga is not British or Spanish land. Your equal distaste for roaming the jungle has made that much clear,” Mariqah said, “Either way - what choice do you have? Vasquez will not stop until every one of your men is dead beneath his boot. You and I both know this. And he'll deal with you last and I will go free anyway.”
Eastwick sighed, “And what reason have you to 'spare' us?”
“I'm a soldier, not a ruthless murderer. I do what needs to be done and no more. Enough blood is being spilt around the world, I don't need more to be spilt here. Of course, if you choose to have your own throats slit, I can't stop you. I am your only key to survival.”
Eastwick seemed to consider his options, chewing his bottom lip in thought, his fingers shaking at the lack of choices and flexibility in the circumstance he'd been roped into.
“Very well,” he decided, getting the key from his desk drawer and unlocking Mariqah's cell-door.
“Thank you,” she said, turning so that Eastwick could cut her loose of her bonds, “Now, we'd better hurry-” she gasped, pain splitting her side. Mariqah looked at her waist and found a knife embedded in it - dribbling warm blood. All at once, she felt weak and light-headed - the sight of her own blood nauseating her.
“You'd better hurry,” the Commodore hissed, ushering her out of the door.
Mariqah staggered forward, the knife cutting her that little bit deeper the more she moved- wincing every time her foot touched the ground, “How could you do this?” she said through her teeth, “After the good you've shown me, how could you do this?” the sandy floors blurred as her eyes filled with pained tears. 
Eastwick didn't reply, he just pushed her up a set of steps and stood, holding the flagpole - the Union Jack still fluttering with pride in the wind.

“Captain Vasquez!” the Commodore called down, “I suggest you stop your assault immediately!”
Silence. Mariqah could have kicked a pebble into the raging ocean below and hear it plop - it was so still and quiet.
“What the fuck do you think you're doing, Commodore?” Vasquez called back.
“Stop your assault or she will die!” the Commodore replied, “Turn away and leave! Now!”
“You think I can so easily moved? Fuck you, you ignorant chicken shit!” Vasquez barked, “Leave her out of this and fight like a fucking man!”
The Commodore grasped the hilt of the knife and began sliding it out, “I'm warning you, Vasquez!”
“Don't listen to him!” Mariqah called, “I am not worth the life and freedom of your men! This is your land! If you leave...” Mariqah paused, thinking of her own loss, “ if you leave, half your crew will be slaughtered like livestock! Estaban!” she screamed as Eastwick stabbed the knife back into her. 
“Quiet!” he sneered.
Mariqah glared at him. She saw the old man look hesitant before she stamped down on his foot and bit his shoulder like a rabid dog. The old man howled and lost his momentum. Mariqah managed to head-butt him, throwing him to the ground, before she kicked his head like a football. 
“Mariqah!” Vasquez cried.
She slid down to her knees, leaning against the flagpole - looking away from the unconscious Commodore, “Take! Back! Your! Land!” she cried, before she closed her eyes and gave into darkness.

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