“This is a bad idea,” Vasquez said.
Mariqah gave him a look and a smirk, “What are you talking about? That ship is perfect.”
Vasquez rolled his eyes and put his head in one hand, “You're going to get us all killed.”
Mariqah shook her head. She drew her sword and used it to tear her clothes. She made a few small cuts across her face and hands, and let them bleed. Vasquez stared at her all the while.
“Now, the rest of the crew already looks the part because of our shenanigans - but you have a choice,” Mariqah said, “Do yourself up and look like you've been under attack, or hide in the long-boat. Either way,” she took off her sword-belt and handed the weapon to him, “I need you to hold this for me,” she gave him a wary look and pointed at him, “This sword is worth more than your ship and everything it could possibly hold, do not lose or damage it.”
“Mariqah, this isn't going to work-” Vasquez protested, fitting the belts across his chest.
“Maybe if we were all men,” Mariqah said, “But we're not.”
“Like you could pass yourself off as a woman.”
Mariqah looked him up and down, “You can talk, you monk.”
“Eh, the island was a different story. You were the only one there.”
“Just get in the boat.”
Mariqah turned away from him and looked at the uncertain faces of the other men. The youngest among them, Chip, was more eager to obey when it came to daring deeds - the rest were far too afraid of the consequences of being caught as a pirate or in piratical service. Everyone had seen the rotting corpses hanging from gibbets in every colonised harbour. It was enough to scare most men.
But boys like Chip weren't like most men - they had something to drive them.
They might say courage, they might claim some ludicrous justification of an injustice, but Mariqah knew it was something far more simple. People are only brave when they have to be, not out of choice. And those that justify misdeeds are blinding themselves to their own corruption.
It was desire - for adventure, for wealth and/or for fame - that drove these men.
And they were the only men worth keeping when it came to daring deeds.
“Chip,” Mariqah called, looking out to sea.
“Aye, madam?” he replied, coming up to stand next to her.
“Do you see that ship over there?” she pointed at a frigate moving lazily through calm, dark waters. It looked like the shadow of a bird in the water in the pale light of the moon, the darkness making the open sea look that much more alluring. Mariqah should have felt cold, but the boiling tension and excitement within made her immune to the chilling winds.
“Aye, madam,” Chip replied.
“Take our vessel near her,” Mariqah instructed.
Chip nodded and was about to turn away, when he said, “Madam?”
“What... What with happen to us? After you've done with us?”
“That all depends on the circumstances,” Mariqah replied, “You'll either want to join Captain Vasquez's crew or go home.”
“Really? You'd let us go?” Chip said, “You don't fear our telling the authorities?”
Mariqah scoffed, “We count on it,” she said and then sighed, “You boys were just a means to an end. We never meant to kill you. Scare you into submission, yes, but never to kill you. A pity, though, if you should be sailing home after all this.”
“I'd say you have quite the knack for this sort of work, Chip.”
“No, I... I couldn't.”
“Suit yourself,” Mariqah shrugged, with a smile on her face, “Now, go on. Steer the ship towards that frigate and on my signal, cry out for help. Like you mean it.”
Chip and the others steered the modest fishing boat through the water, and as Mariqah had instructed, they wailed and cried out for help. The vessel that had gained Mariqah's attention was a British frigate - easily identified by the fluttering piece of cloth that hung from the tip of the main-mast, dyed in the colours of the Union Jack - and it was called Blackwell - easily identified by the name printed on the back - and it wasn't much of a battle-ship.
That suited Mariqah just fine.
The men aboard - though they would be dressed in the garbs of British soldiers - wouldn't be as well-trained. Especially when a crew of four poorly fishermen and a seemingly-injured woman would take them by surprise.
The wails and cries from the fishing boat were heard and Mariqah caught the speech of pity coming from the deck of the Blackwell. A rope ladder was lowered from the deck and the crew of the fishing boat was helped aboard. Mariqah was escorted immediately to the doctor's cabin and laid down in a straw-mattress crib.
“What happened to you?” was the resounding question, reverberating around the crew of the Blackwell.
Given their chance, one of the fishermen said, “Pirates, sirs!” he was flustered and in a hurry to get it all out, “Pirates waylaid us and - please, please, have mercy! - they had us work in their service. We were in fear of our lives, sirs!”
“Work for you?” asked the commander, “Whatever do you mean?”
Chip tried to dilly-dally, but the fisherman insisted, “The woman, sir! She's one of them!”
There was a stunned pause on deck, before several red-coated men ran down to the doctor's cabin and burst open the door.
“She's knocked-out the doctor!” cried one of the soldiers, “She's nowhere to be seen!”
“Are you quite sure?”
All the soldiers raced back up to the main-deck to seen Mariqah holding a cutlass to the commander's throat. At that moment, Vasquez climbed up from behind the ship, wrapped an arm around the captain's neck and held a gun to the man's forehead.
“Let me handle this,” Mariqah told Vasquez.
“We help you, and you betray us?” the commander said.
“Betray you? I didn't ask for your help, they did,” she nodded at the fishermen on deck, who all gulped at once.
“So, why are you pirates here? I am not giving up this ship!”
“Oh, commander, I would never ask such a thing of you,” Mariqah said, “Because, unlike the man with the cocked pistol over there, I'm not a pirate. And, for the record, you should well know that.”
Mariqah let him go and faced him, “Commander, I have no intention of killing you or any of your...” she looked at the crew, “ill-trained, sailor people. Frankly, it would be like clubbing little white bunnies after putting them to sleep.”
“They all ran to the doctor's cabin: leaving you, your captain and your helmsman - the three most important men on-deck - exposed to a surprise attack,” she paused, “I don't think you're in any place to argue.”
The commander smouldered, silently glaring at his crew through a long side-glance, “Why are you here?”
“I need a ship, your ship to be specific, but just taking it from you would be piracy and I've already said that I'm no pirate. So, instead, I intend to buy it from you.”
“It's not for sale.”
“Well, unless you want to sail without a captain and a helmsman, I'd say it is for sale,” Mariqah said, briskly moving on as if the threat didn't need to linger to hold effect, “I'll give you more than what this ship is worth, I assure you, and I have a friend in the British military who will act as my middle-man - a Captain Reynold Evans, to be specific.”
An air of realisation dawned on the commander, “You're the mercenary. Evans speaks of you often.”
“Charmed,” Mariqah said, “Now, I'm not exactly flushed with coin at the moment, but if you take your crew back to where they came in that fishing boat and leave us this fine vessel - I will grant you double what you paid for this ship.”
“How would you know what this ship is worth?”
“This is a ship serving under His Majesty, the King. I'm sure I can arrange some means to find out. Now would you like to leave now, or would you prefer this agreement in writing?”
“In writing would be... good,” the commander said, as if unsure of himself.
“Excellent! Though, I will have to insist that your crew starts boarding the fishing vessel,” Mariqah said and looked at Vasquez, “Any signs of protest from the crew, and you kill the captain.”
“There's no need for that,” the commander said, “My crew will board your other vessel.”
“Good,” Mariqah smiled, “Now, let's make our way to the Captain's Cabin, where I can write up our agreement. If your payment does not arrive within the span of six months, you may write a letter of complaint to me through Captain Evans.”