“What did she do then?”
“She learnt the ways of the sea.”
A little less than a year ago
“You’ve got something wrong straight away,” Tommen said from her left side. Why could no one leave her to her writing? The boy that disturbed her was a Seaman just like she was, well she was considered a rank below him which didn’t even have a position, and was someone she considered a friend.
“What did I get wrong this time?”
“First of all, this is not a ‘boat’ but a ship. We are far away from the simple rowing boats you have back home Cassie,” he knew the nickname annoyed her and smiled when the corked ink bottle got chucked at him which he caught, “Second of all, you spelt ‘Quadrant’ wrong.” He laughed at her expression.
“That is an ink blot! Plus I have little light to work with here,” She explained, pointing to the lone lantern on her other side. She was not worried that it wouldn’t reach its destination. After all Sars only had one mailing point with the civilians sorting any letters out to go to the right people. Even so, back home they didn’t really have a refined education like the one Tommen had received. From what she knew about him, Tommen came from an island from the west, similar to Sars but nearer to a mainland and bigger. Cassiopeia ensured that her handwriting was neat because it was the one bit of education, learning how to read and write, that they definitely received.
“All right, I’ll leave you alone. But really, the most significant aspect of this journey is the horizon?”
Cassiopeia told him that her parents were worried enough about her rather sudden departure, her father being less than pleased with her decision, so the least she could do was leave out what she had actually been doing on The Night Thief. If she told them that she was on a ship with traders that practically weren’t even known by those back home, and that she had been put hard at work with no excuses of slacking, or that she hardly accepted by the men on board, her parents would instantly try to get her to come home. That was even if they didn’t know her exact location at that time. Or worse they would blame themselves for drawing her away despite her assurances that they had done nothing of the sort.
“I get it, I get it,” he stood, flicking his sun-bleached hair out of his eyes, “Now get up we’d both better get back to work.”
“I shall have you know that I have a break and you do not.”
She stood anyway and pocketed the postcard, mentally reminding herself to post it as soon as they reached land. Cassiopeia didn’t have much to do on the ship, generally cleaning and standing watch for now while she was learning how to operate deck gear, open and close sails and work the mooring lines. It was something new and different to her usual routine, and although it wasn’t what she had had in mind when she spoke of adventure, a changing scenery and varying tasks were enough for now.
It was on one of her duties of standing watch that she first spotted another ship in the distance. “Approaching ship!”
It began as nothing – a sliver of mist and wood on the surface of the sea – but soon it morphed into something that was definitely a ship. The polished black hull and matching black sails grew larger as the rest of the crew scuttled around her like flies. The lanterns aboard were so small and colourless they could have passed for starlight. Only when it was evident that it was heading straight for them did Cassiopeia strain her eyes for a name. A name was enough to decipher if the crew on that foreign boat was benign or malevolent.
It took fifteen seconds of eye straining to discover that the ship was nameless. Cassiopeia Turow or The Night Thief always had a way of finding trouble. She couldn’t decide which one of them was to blame or whether it was a combination of both.
The ship was nearly on top of them by now. “Stay calm everybody!” Captain Blackwood was always calm in these situations, yet after three days of constant sailing he still wasn’t worth knowing her name. It was a luxury she was withholding for her own pleasure of seeing him frown when he called her Turow. The ships were side by side, close enough that they could see the faces of the men leaning over the rail.
“Why hello there gentlemen, what can we do for you tonight?” Their Captain sarcastically shouted across, mimicking their pose. The other crew said nothing.
“Cassie, hide.” Tommen whispered, appearing as though a ghost behind her.
“Why?” she whispered back.
“Because they’re coming aboard,” how right he was, she didn’t even have to take her eyes off of Tommen because the sound of ropes whistling through the air was enough. Tommen had enough sense to offer her safety, while the others had not which told her that the crew hadn’t adjusted to her sudden appearance on the ship. Leaving Tommen to the oncoming trouble, she went back to where she was writing her postcard before and lifted one of the decks wooden slats disappearing into the narrow cupboard space of cargo that was rarely used for that purpose. Reaching a hand up, she snuffed out the lantern near the space and shut herself in, her only visibility to the deck above being a circular hole.
Cassiopeia had counted twelve members that were visible, that was discounting the Captain which none of them had seen on the deck of the unfamiliar ship. Her crew and their enemies were black blurs up ahead, with thuds being the only signal of actual fighting. She could tell from the intensity of the thuds which ones were punches and footwork, and which ones were bodies hitting the floor.
From her estimations three members of the enemies were already taken care of. Nine more to go.
Her hiding space became a fraction lighter as the slat of wood was hauled up and then blocked as a hand reached down. “It must be my lucky night,” her opponent said, as he grabbed her by the shoulders. She was on the deck for a second before he barrelled into her. He was massive, but his movement was slowed a measure and clumsy, probably from a helping of alcohol before this venture. Disorientated, Cassiopeia fought her way out of his grip with gritted teeth and slammed her boot into his sternum. Her hurriedly aimed kick was enough to push him backwards, forcing him to curl inwards for a second to lessen the pain. They were on the side of the ship that was stacked up with crates of decking gear so he slipped as he met one of them and ploughed to the floor, half a curse hanging on his lips. The darkened lantern met his jaw and his head was pulled sideward then it rolled onto his chest. He was unconscious, she thought.
Shaking, she knew that she couldn’t go back to her hiding hole and couldn’t immerse herself full into the fighting. Her success with her opponent had been due to the chance of well-placed objects. Although if she did say so herself, her movements were good enough to contribute to the defeat of her enemy which she didn’t want to dwell on. Around her further thuds signalled more defeats.
Hers had counted eight left.
Racing along the perimeter of the ship she found the hatch that lead further down to the bedrooms and then further yet to the cargo. She headed for the cargo, the further down option was the safest she supposed. Her fight or flight instinct was too strong to decipher, on one hand she wanted to teach her crew that she was a member that they didn’t have to regret, but on the other hand she wanted to remain alive, not trusting herself to fight so readily. A shuffling form ahead of her made her pause. There was someone down here.
This one was trying to steal from their cargo, to admit it wasn’t much, but still there was something down here that they wanted. Closer to the thief she could see that he was trying to pocket a few pink jewels. Where had the crew even picked them up? No matter, stealing was wrong no matter what was took. She should've thought before she marched towards him with nothing but her wits and her fists. But she didn't.
“You know,” her voice caused him to spin, “You could walk away from all of this.” It was a stupid sentence, of course he wasn’t going to stop what he was doing just because she said so. This man was bearded and he carried a curved knife, which was very, very sharp.
Cassiopeia gulped. But if she was going to survive being at sea she would have to learn how to deal with pirates and thieves. She was still busy thinking of what move she was going to pull, when the man lunged. Cassiopeia leaped back, eager to escape the blade. He slashed again, this time missing her by a hair's breadth. She spun, but forgot to duck and a fist met her face. It was a move to disable her, to lose her balance and sense of orientation. It worked. Desperate. She had to be move desperately. She had to be desperate. He was going to slash again, sure to catch her skin this time but she slammed her knuckles towards the man, catching a temple from his crouched position over her. He stumbled and she went in again, this time aiming for his jaw. Recovering quickly, he came back at her with a slash to her leg, the curved blade met and a ribbon formed across her thigh. She let out a brief yell at the sudden heat of pain and went down to her knees. He grabbed her hair and aimed her backwards, “What fun would it be to kill you now, or save you for our Captain?”
Desperate movements. Desperate thoughts.
There was a Captain? He was going to be the sneak attack for her crew. They had to be warned. His knife was held loosely in his hand as he debated on what he was going to do with her. She hurled a derogative at him before knocking his hand, sprawling the knife onto the floor. Her enemy went to grab it and in his distraction she propelled herself up in a bold move and sent him on his back.Clumsy. She was clumsy and she couldn't afford to be. A fist met her stomach, another her face but she grabbed the fallen knife in desperation.
“You can…” she tried to reason. Another blow hit her. Legs caged in around her. She was running out of time. Ramming the blade upward she met flesh and dragged it in further. He coughed, blood smattering her clothes as he slumped and Cassiopeia had no choice but to push him to the side.
She had been desperate and she was now a killer.
She had to hold in the contents of her stomach. She had killed someone. A man she didn’t even know.
How adventure has changed you already, a small mental voice told her, you're so reckless now, it taunted. Cassiopeia stood there for a time, a bloodied and bruised hand held over her lips and her body trembling from disgust at herself more than relief of her survival.
Remember the Captain, the voice reminded her again and she moved. Abandoning the body of the man she had killed, the jewels forgotten she went back to the deck. Up top the floor was strewn with bodies.
There were only two more people to go before her crew had won this battle.
Looking left she saw Tommen strike a knife into a man’s eye, smiling around a mouthful of blood as the man went down. Where had he learned that? That wasn't the boy she had come to know.
Looking right she saw Blackwood fighting another Captain, hats knocked aside in favour of the fight. She watched as Blackwood was unmerciful in delivering blows with his sword. The clash of sword on sword, then sword meeting skin and sinking in. She closed her eyes when she knew what was coming next.
The men’s cries of a victory were static in her head as she tasted blood. Whether it was her own she did not know.
She had to answer to her Captain so she opened her eyes, “They were after your cargo, specifically the pink jewels,” she turned and headed to the small room which had been deemed as hers. She ignored the calls of Tommen and left the Captain to celebrate with his crew, meanwhile she had to go wash the blood off of her hands.
Cassiopeia had a lot to learn, about herself and the crew, before she could be classed as an adventurer.