Frost and Fire

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


9. 8

“I cannot believe that worked,” Vasquez laughed as he steered his new vessel.
“You need to have more faith in me, mate,” Mariqah said, tying down the rigging and then going to stand by Vasquez's side, “You don't always need to tear your voice or trade blows to get what you want. Where's Chip?”
 “Up in the crow's nest,” Vasquez said.
 It wasn't easy to manage a ship with just three people - it would be even harder to manage if they came under attack - but they were all toiling their way through it. Everyone else had left, though Chip had opted to stay, for - as Mariqah had predicted - he wanted to see the world and feel the thrill of an adventurous life. “He can get down from there now, can't he?” Mariqah said.
“It's still dark and I don't hear him complaining, so why call him down?” Vasquez shrugged.
“Must be freezing up there,” Mariqah commented.

“He'll be warmed by the view,” Vasquez replied, “I've seen many things, been many
 places - but nothing compares to the open sea, Mariqah.”
Mariqah scoffed, “You'd say so,” she said, leaning against the banister, gazing at the brightly-lit moon, looming against the dark sky and casting a watery white reflection upon the calm ink-black waves. It was beautiful, to say the least, “You belong here, at sea.”
Vasquez gave her a look, “And you? Where do you belong?”
 “I don't know,” Mariqah admitted, “I thought it was in Syria, but... there's trouble stirring there and I haven't the slightest clue whether doing this job will help or worsen the situation. Home is where you feel secure, if not safe. The tide could turn against you, Vasquez, and still you wouldn't abandon the sea,” she sighed, “But my home isn't secure.”
 “Maybe you shouldn't have turned down payment, then.”
 “It's not just about money, Vasquez.”
He raised a brow, “Oh?”
 “I can always get money. I have land in France that gives us a steady income, and other commissions of war will get us a lot of wealth. Money isn't the problem, or a large one anyway.”
 “So...” Vasquez paused, before he realised, “You're looking for a new life, aren't you?”
 “That was the intent, otherwise aiding pirates isn't usually in my line of work,” Mariqah smiled, “But all this has reminded me of why I didn't take it in the first place. I can ignore discomfort for a very long time, but I couldn't possibly live on the sea for months, let alone years. The food is bad, the hygiene is horrible, the men are...” she looked at Vasquez, who was silently amused, “the men are less than impressive specimens, and I detest alcohol - most of all, rum. And I fear I would dive into more scrapes than I would run from them, as is against sailor tradition,” Mariqah laughed, “A pirate's life is not for me.”
 “Then why are you still here?”
 “To rebuild my reputation, I suppose. To impress my target-market and my men. And... because I was assigned,” Mariqah said, “I'm only as good as my word.”
 “But you hate me.”
 “Hated you. I can say I'm not completely repulsed by your presence at the moment.”
Vasquez laughed, “I suppose that's good to hear.”

They let silence linger for a while, such that it was only filled with the loud churning of the water beneath them, the sails fluttering in the wind and the soft, tuneful whistling of a ballad coming from the crow's nest.
“Where did you learn to sail?” Vasquez asked.
“Callum taught me,” Mariqah replied, “When we met in London, we became friends almost instantly. When he told me he was leaving the country, I wasn't happy with it, so I asked if I could join him in his travels. He agreed. In the beginning, I was just a guest on his merchant vessel - he wasn't a pirate then - but I watched and learned a few tricks. How to tie a proper knot, how to climb the rigging. It wasn't long before he started teaching me a few basics. I didn't remain a sailor long, though.”
 “Decided the sea wasn't for you?”
 “It's... more complicated than that. I... hurt Callum in a way most men wouldn't forgive and it still effects us both to this day. Less than before, but it's still there. I couldn't be with him anymore, and he didn't understand it, couldn't accept it. We argued for days, but eventually we came to an impasse. A messy one, but an impasse all the same. I'm just glad we parted on mutual terms,” Mariqah huffed, “And I hope I'm not doing the same thing to you.”
Vasquez raised a hand, “Mariqah, we already agreed that our... mingling meant nothing,” he sighed, “And, to be frank, I haven't learned to love since... you know. I doubt it will happen any time soon.”
 “We're very similar, you and I,” Mariqah said.
 Vasquez scoffed, “Are we?”
 “In some things.”

 “I feel like I need to wipe all the sentimental-bitch off of me,” Vasquez laughed, “What now?”
Mariqah rolled her eyes, “I'm going to need your help for the next part,” she said, “We need to attract the attention of a pirate-hunter, but we can't do that without causing a little more trouble.”
 “Mm... Causing trouble would be a hard thing, without a crew.”
 “That's where I need your help. How do we get more crew members?”
 “We could resupply in Nassau and-”
 “No. I'm not going back to Nassau until I have a man-of-war.”
 “To prove a point.”
Vasquez shook his head, “Well, then things could be more complicated. The whole of the Caribbean sea is on the alert for pirate activity. People are being hanged everywhere, even some who are innocent of piracy but related to certain pirates. If we free these pirates, they'll aid us - no questions. It's the fastest way to make friends, I should think. But they're difficult to free.”
 “Can't the guards be bought?”
 “Depends on the guards.”
 “Where's the nearest-?”
 “We're still on a set course to Martinique. We'll land there. I'll send Chip ashore to resupply and sell what we don't need, you and I can search for crew members to fill out the rest of the ship. Sound like a plan?”
Mariqah smiled, “Aye. Sounds like a plan.”

Mariqah called Chip down from the crow's nest and asked him to manage the wheel while she and Vasquez descended to the hold to inspect the cargo. There were many resources: cloth, metal, wood - but all were required to be able to maintain the ship. They would be able to sell the rum, sugar and tobacco - though it was not much, it would bring in some wealth. In terms of food, there were barrels of pickles and hard-boiled eggs. Any fish that had been caught would have been eaten.
“What do we do with the excess?” Vasquez asked, sitting on a crate and opening a flask of rum.
“Sell it,” Mariqah replied.
 Vasquez drank and passed the flask to Mariqah, “And the excess in coin?”
 “Keep it.”
 “Don't you want your cut?”
 “How much would you be willing to give me?”
 “How much do you want?”
 “How ever much you're willing to give me.”
 “I'm willing to give you as much as you want.”
 “And suppose I wanted it all?”
 “Out of the question. But, Mariqah, you don't want it all.”
Mariqah drank from the flask, making a face as she did so, “Then how much do you think I want?”
Vasquez paused, “You'll get a captain's share, same as me.”
 “I'm not a pirate.”
 “Well, for now, it seems you are.”

Mariqah smiled, looked away and drank a little more before passing the flask back. She contemplated this life and took in her surroundings - the stacks of crates and kegs and barrels, the musty smell of damp and decay, the net hammocks hanging from any out-of-the-way place.
 She didn't enjoy the sight of chaos.
“Mariqah?” Vasquez called.
 “I'm sorry, for how I-”
Mariqah raised a hand, “It's... fine. Really.”
 “Do you think... you could stay?”
Mariqah turned to him, and raised a brow.
“We make a good team,” he added quickly.
“No, Vasquez. I couldn't live like this. And the weather, the company, the smell... It's not for me.”
 “What if... after we free Tortuga, you stayed in the fortress, on land. And I could-”
 “Return home with a harpooned shark over one shoulder?” Mariqah laughed, “Vasquez...”
He smiled and looked away, “Sorry,” he scoffed to himself, “I've never quite met someone like you.”
Mariqah looked at her hands, not knowing what to say.
 It was happening again.
 Vasquez would deny it, but it was.
“I should... I should go and check on Chip,” she said.
“Wait,” Vasquez said, holding her arm, “Um...”
 “Yes?” Mariqah said.
 Vasquez searched her face with his eyes for a moment before, he said, “Nothing. Never mind.”

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