The Catch

This story takes place roughly 200 years before The Chase.
If it wasn't for bad luck, Rye Mash would have no luck at all. As a foal, he was taken during one of the infamous sweeps of the Shetland Isles. Now, as a young colt, he is an indentured servant, forced to spend the rest of his life working for his master, a unicorn named Lace Collar, so he can pay off the bill for his education.
However, Rye Mash's bad luck ends up being Lace Collar's bad luck as well, and both of them end up as prisoners of the infamous sky pirates and their dreadful leader, Captain Spyglass, the mass murdering lunatic that is feared the whole world over.

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6. Chapter 6

The griffon captain was quite a mess. Rye swallowed hard and tried not to think about what he had done. He immediately began to justify his actions, reminding himself mentally that the griffon was a slaver. The unicorn was a mess of nerves after combat. He jittered and shook as he stood in place, looking down at the corpse. He made himself look, as much as he didn’t want to. He had taken several lives today, and it was sinking into his mind that he had crossed a threshold. He had crossed some barrier and now there was no returning to how life was, back when he was innocent of things like killing.

There were several guns. Two ornate pistols in a matched brace, both were a smaller bore than his current brace of pistols but Rye was confident that they would do well in a fight. They had longer barrels. There was a small strange looking pistol with four barrels and four triggers. The barrels weren’t very long and Rye doubted that it would be very accurate, but in close quarters, it held four shots and Rye guessed that all four triggers could be pulled at once. He liked it a great deal. It was practical and it gave him ideas as he studied the strange firearm.

The last gun he collected was another shotgun. This one had a much shorter barrel than his own, and he remembered Bloody Velvet telling him about scatterguns when she had shown him how to load and fire his shotgun. Even though he was standing in the middle of a grim and bloody mess, Rye smiled when he claimed the scattergun. The barrel was short and cavernous, a gaping opening that would spit fire and shrapnel at whatever he didn’t like.

“You should never talk to a lady the way you did,” Rye spat, scolding the dead griffon.

Rye began to search the captain’s cabin carefully, looking around for anything that might be of use. There were lots of griffon stuff scattered about, things that required finger talons to be put to proper use, but Rye had a bit of magic to make up for not having opposable digits. He found a corkscrew and smiled, those were always useful. He plundered a cabinet full of firearms supplies. Always very very useful. He found ledgers and set those aside, certain that Captain Spyglass would want those. There was a pouch full of assorted coins made out of precious metals. He tossed those aside into a pile with the ledgers.

He found a small silver flask which was sadly empty. In a small wooden box he found several bottles of liquor, which made him smile. The box sat upon a small wooden desk. Rye made himself focus once he began to ransack the desk. Lace Collar’s desk back home had several hidden compartments… hidden places under drawers and false bottoms and all manner of nooks to hide stuff.

Rye began to check under each drawer, pulling them free of their resting places and checking the bottom. He checked the back area where the drawers slid into. The bottom drawer did not slide out, something held it in place. Rye smiled. He rapped his hoof on the drawer and heard a hollow sound coming from the bottom. He felt around with his magic and found a small latch, something that would have to be snagged with a claw… or by clever unicorn magic. The false bottom opened and there were a pile of papers and another ledger inside of it.

Rye frowned when he saw the royal seal of House Avarice. There were several bills of sale for things like tea and other sundries. He saw mention of a spice plantation. His frown turned into a scowl. There was a commission to gather “labourers” for the plantation and the promise of payment upon delivery.

The angry unicorn looked back at the dead griffon and snarled. Rye was tempted to shoot him again just to make himself feel better. What little regret he had over killing was fading away rapidly.

Much to his dismay, he found no coded messages. He wasn’t sure why he had been hopeful for finding one, but he was disappointed that he had found none. He gathered up everything important and continued to search the cabin.

 

 

The captain was impressed upon his return and now stood looking over various papers that Rye held for him. Rye had done well in giving the cabin a once over and had even found a secret stash. After a few quick peeks, everything was stuffed into a saddlebag and collected.

The pair exited the room, walked down the hallway, and took the stairs down. They stood on a landing, cautiously looking around them. There were no signs of other griffons. The stench was strongest here. Rye stood on the landing as the captain went forward to examine a door. It was large and heavy, solidly built, and locked with a padlock.

“Did you find a key?” Spyglass asked.

Rye shook his head and cringed when the captain let go with a frightful string of expletives. Spyglass continued to curse for quite some time.

“Captain, allow me,” Rye said.

“Unicorn magic?” Spyglass inquired.

“Maybe a little,” Rye answered. He pulled out his peppershaker, opened it, and measured out a bit of black powder. He poured it into the keyhole of the lock. “I’d stand back sir,” Rye warned, stepping back a good bit himself.

Spyglass moved swiftly and was instantly halfway up the stairs.

Rye, standing what he hoped was a safe distance away, touched the black powder with his mind, using a spell that he used to light candles. There was an explosive “BANG!” that made his ears ring and then there was piecing pain in one of his ears. He felt something wet and sticky running down the side of his face.

Spyglass approached, looking concerned. “You have a hole in your ear,” he commented.

Rye gritted his teeth together and did his best to ignore the pain.

“This is why I went halfway up the stairs. Above the angle of travel for any projectiles. I hope you learned something,” Spyglass said patiently.

Rye nodded.

“The lock is gone. Good work,” Spyglass stated.

The pegasus moved towards the door and pushed it open.

What was on the other side changed Rye Mash’s life forever.

 

 

The stench was horrific. There were roughly two dozen or so zebras and a few ponies still alive, chained into cubbies. Some of them had died. Urine and feces covered everything. The survivors looked at the two ponies in the door hopefully, and there were pleading cries but no words.

“We are not here to become your new masters,” Spyglass announced. “Please, I know you are suffering, but please be patient. Give us time to work and we will free you. I ask that you try not to cry or scream or plead and beg to be released, as you will all be released in time. We will work down the rows. Once you are freed, you will be taken above decks, carried if need be, you will be bathed, and then we will feed you. Again, I ask you to be patient. I know all of you have suffered greatly. We cannot free all of you all at once,” he explained.

A few heads nodded, but most just lay still and continued to stare.

Rye felt numbed. Any remaining regret he felt for killing today faded completely. He was completely overcome by the situation.

“Mister Mash, I must ask of you to stay here and keep these poor souls company while I go and fetch some help. Try to remain strong. Be an inspiration for them. They need strong shoulders right now,” Spyglass said in a commanding voice that cut through Rye’s mental fog.

Rye nodded in reply.

“Water,” one of the zebras croaked.

“Will be coming soon enough,” Spyglass promised as he backed out of the door and retreated up the stairs to get assistance.

Rye stared at the zebras and the ponies all around him, and realised he was being stared at in return. They watched him, waiting, looking at him hopefully. Rye realised he was covered in blood and there was a fresh hole in his ear. He was bristling with guns. He wondered what he must look like to them. He smiled, thinking that a friendly smiling face might be just what they needed right now, and a young filly smiled back at him. Rye felt a little bit better after seeing the filly smile.

“We want to go home,” a zebra cried out in a raspy dry voice.

Rye said nothing and made no promises. He stood there, his smile now a strained one. He couldn’t understand how any this could be done to a sapient being. A painful memory bubbled in his brain, a memory of the sweeps and being taken from home with all of the others.

At least they had not been packed into a ship like this.

“I will let you have your way with me if you will just let me out, I promise I won’t fight back, I remember my lessons… I would never fight back,” a zebra filly offered in a raspy scratchy voice.

“Sorry ma’am, I uh, I know that this is hard, but please wait. You will be let out. And you don’t need to offer your body in return,” Rye replied.

“But I am a good slave, I know what is wanted from me,” she answered.

Rye’s smile faded and the unicorn slumped. “Nopony is going to hurt you or do anything with you. I promise,” Rye said. He realised after he spoke that he was placing a lot of faith in Spyglass’ crew. He hoped that he would not be made a liar. “None of you are slaves any longer, my name is Rye Mash, and I give you my word and I swear on my good name that you are free,” he said in a loud clear voice.

Spyglass returned and stepped through the door. With him were quite a few pegasi.

“Rye, I will need your help releasing these poor souls. Afterwards, I want you to try and stitch some of my crew back together if you can. You’ve done well today, but the day is far from over,” Spyglass instructed.

Rye nodded in acknowledgement and turned to begin his task.

 

 

Rye slumped in exhaustion. He had been going non stop for hours. Releasing the slaves. Stitching up crew members. The learning curve was much higher than he expected, but his work had improved considerably after the first few attempts. His ear stung and he could feel the light breeze blowing through the hole.

The slave ship was being towed, connected to the other vessel by strong chains. The slaves were on deck, many of them looking dazed. Most of them were silent. A few talked in low voices to one another.

Beside him, Skeeter lay on the wooden deck. Rye felt that he had done a good job in stitching Skeeter’s face back together. Rye had shared in his friend’s agony, he had seen the look of fear and panic in the pegasus’ eyes as he worked.

Rye’s coat was still damp. Pegasi had collected clouds and had used them as a shower. It had taken quite a bit of effort to get all of the blood out of Rye’s pelt. And it had taken even more effort to scrub the filth from the slaves. Many had helped, scrubbing with a hoof and trying to work the encrusted filth free. The deck had been sluiced afterwards.

Rye heard the flutter of wings and the thump of hooves beside him. He was too tired to turn his head, but he knew that it was the captain. He prepared himself to rise.

“Stay put,” Spyglass said as he approached. “You look bloody awful,” the captain muttered. “There has been a change in plans. We are still going to Trottingham, but we are going to take a bit of a detour to the Sea of Grass and take these zebra folk back home. The ponies captured were travelers from a few different countries. We’re still trying to figure out what to do for them,” Spyglass explained.

“I’d like to see the Sea of Grass,” Rye said weakly.

“You did very well today, I am impressed. You went well above and beyond the call of duty. I need more unicorns,” Spyglass stated. “Magic is useful. Most unicorns would never choose this life though,” he commented.

“I’m glad I did,” Rye said in reply. His voice sounded weary.

“Skeeter, you also did well today. You lived. And that’s saying something. From now on, in future engagements, now that you have proven yourself, you are to be Mister Mash’s bodyguard. You will be responsible for his transport, getting him from one ship to another when we board. You are to remain at his side. You keep him alive, and he will keep you alive. Do you understand your new duties?” Spyglass said to the pegasus colt.

Skeeter nodded but said nothing. He raised one wing weakly in salute.

“Also, you will be joining Mister Mash when he eats. Consider yourself privileged. I want you two to trust one another. When you go on shore leave, I want you two to stick together. Have I made intentions clear?” the captain asked.

Skeeter nodded again and Rye also gave a nod.

“Good, because I will not always be able to foalsit my cabin colt and I need to know that he is looked after,” Spyglass said as he sat down. He turned his gaze towards the freed slaves. “Look at them. Poor wretches. They’re free. Do you hear them celebrating? Do you hear them laughing? They’re broken. And they’re going to be that way for a long time,” the pegasus mused.

“Does Skeeter get a pay raise for looking after me?” Rye asked.

Spyglass whipped his head around and glared at the unicorn, raising his eyebrow. His wings flared outwards a bit. His nostrils flared and his ears perked forwards.

“It is a concern,” Rye explained. “I was in a gun battle today. I went into some very dangerous situations. Skeeter doesn’t have a means to handle firearms. All he has are his hooves. If he is intended to take a bullet for me, I think it is fair to pay him a bit more for due to that expectation.”

Spyglass’ expression softened. “I will see that he gets a few extra coins for his service,” Spyglass muttered. “And you are well on your way of becoming quite the mercenary Rye Mash,” he added. His face broke into a grin. “And I suspect that Skeeter will be all the more loyal to you after what you said.”

“Is Velvet okay?” Rye asked, changing the subject.

“She will be. She had an off day. Some days, she can cast spells almost endlessly and remain strong all day long. Other days, well, other days are more like today,” Spyglass replied. “Which is why I needed you. Magic makes things so much easier.”

 

Author's Note:

Let me know if I missed any typos.

I hope you like the new chapter.

Soonish, the Sea of Grass.

 
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