The Pirate and The Thief Ch. 10byLucreace©
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"Sail ho!" The cry came from the foremast lookout. His cry produced a hive of activity on deck. James produced a scope from his coat pocket and scanned the horizon in the direction the lookout was pointing. A hurried conversation was whispered between him and John and by the look on his face, it was no good thing. Molly squinted into the distance but couldn't make anything out yet, it was a mere blur to her. She put aside the sail patch she'd been working on and stood up. She stretched her back and shoulders before crossing the deck and mounting the quarter-deck.
"Nothing to worry about," James said handing her the spyglass. She put it to her eye and scanned the horizon once more. She recognised the ship instantly.
"That's the Red Plunder you know," she said. He nodded.
"Indeed it is, I wonder what the bitch wants," he said. A cold shiver passed up Molly's spine at the thought of seeing Bess again. She'd want to know what she'd been doing these past few weeks that didn't involve fucking her ex-husband. She glanced at James but his face betrayed no emotion. As he began barking orders to the pirates in the shrouds, she wrapped her arms around her body and rubbed her arms, willing some warmth back into them. God's this was not what she wanted. John came to rest by her side and gave her a wan smile. His gaze turned to the ship on the horizon and his countenance turned grim.
"This bodes ill for all of us," he muttered.
"More than you know," she said with a grim nod, "Can't we just fire on them?"
"Captain wouldn't do such a thing, even after what she did, he'd not bring harm to one of our own," John said.
"I know, would be a good way out of it though eh," Molly said with a small smile. John nodded before turning his attention back to the running of the ship. James walked over to her and gave a nod. How she wanted to run her tongue over the swell of his throat at that moment. Instead, she contented herself with looking up into his blue eyes and smiling. "Are you ok?"
"Yes. If it comes to a fight, we can take her, we have more guns than she, are bigger and the crew more orderly. Bess knows this as well as I do." James said running his hand along the wood at the taffrail.
Molly let her arms fall to her sides and looked across the water, "Will it come to that?"
"I doubt it, we'd sink her in a heartbeat. Don't worry about Bess, I'll handle her, you don't have to see her if you don't want to," he said. He stayed a good distance from her, like he always did when they were in the presence of the other crew members. It wasn't anything they'd agreed verbally, it didn't seem right hanging on each other in front of the rest of the crew. "She won't catch up for a good few hours yet though so go and do some work," he said.
"I'll be alright. She'll expect me to be here so here I'll stay. This is my home now and she won't frighten me away," Molly said. James gave her a nod before she turned and left the quarter deck. Crossing the deck, she returned to the forecastle and resumed her sail stitching. The sun rose and fell from the zenith and still the Red Plunder hadn't pulled alongside. She'd gained but she was making slow progress, strange considering they'd put in for cleaning shortly after they'd left port. Unless that was where they were going now. Of course Molly was no navigator though so she didn't know if they were even in the right part of the sea for that.
Bess' words drifted through her mind as she stitched the latest patch. Rage flooded through Molly as the callous remarks flooded back to her. Who did she think she was anyway? What right did Bess have to order her around? Was she not in charge of her own life? She had chosen to join Bess' crew when she's first arrived in Nass and she'd chosen when to leave. Bess had no hold over her and that was final. She should tell James about the last conversation she'd had with her but what if he didn't listen. What if he believed her capable of such deceit? He'd send her back to the Red Plunder and away from the good companions she'd found. She'd rather be thrown in the sea. If she was forced to go back to Bess' ship, her life would be miserable again. Granted not as bad as in Karana but bad enough. Molly realised she'd grown to enjoy life on the Sea Witch and that wasn't something she wanted to lose. How could she risk telling James anything if that was at stake? She'd also grown to enjoy his company over the last week and she didn't want to go back to sleeping in a crowded bunkroom full of smelly snoring pirates either. She swallowed her indignation and resolved to keep her mouth shut.
As the Red Plunder grew on the horizon, Molly noticed that she had taken a pounding recently. There were scorch marks along her hull and a few hastily made patches along her frame. Black soot scarred her wood and splintered holes could be seen on her railings. Her sails had been patched in a hurry and in some places, hadn't been repaired at all. It was no wonder she'd made such slow progress towards them. Even with most of the Sea Witch's sails reefed, it had still taken well into six hours for them to draw alongside. Molly had put away her sail patches and finished for the day. She was supposed to be having dinner with James that evening, just the two of them, that would not be the case now. If the initial talks were amicable, Bess would be joining them, along with Davey, John and Mahoney. That was if she was still invited of course, she'd not know what to say amongst such company.
Below deck, there was a hive of activity as the night watch readied themselves for their shift. Molly allowed the busy pirates to get on deck before she took herself below. Her hammock was exactly where she'd left it. Clambering in, she settled herself down and pulled the blanket over herself. She didn't feel particularly tired but once the gentle pitch and roll of the ship began to sway her, she found her eyes growing heavy. The comfortable warm place between sleep and awareness she found was disrupted by clumping footfalls approaching her. "Molly!" She started awake.
"Maylan's Breath!" she cried, "What's wrong?" She sat up and looked into the started eyes of Stef, one of the deckhands.
"I didn't mean to startle you, nothing's wrong. Captain's asking for you." He said.
"Tell him I'll join him in a moment," Molly nodded. The young lad ran off, giving Molly a moment to smooth her hair and pull her clothing straight. She made her way back on deck and found the sun had set while she'd been dozing. Had it been that long? Her thoughts were cut off when she saw James waiting for her at the entrance across the deck. "Sorry," she said, "I didn't know if you'd still want me here seeing as..." she let her words trail off, waving her hand instead.
"No, God's, this is going to be tough enough, I need you there to stop be doing anything I regret," he said.
"I don't know how I can do that," Molly said.
"Just be there," he said. He gave her a smile that made her knees disappear and she nodded weakly. "You'll be fine; she'll dare not insult you when I'm there."
"I hope you're right," Molly said. She followed James back into the cabin that served as a dining room when the need arose. Everyone was already sitting around the table, Davey was next to John and they were engaged in conversation already. Mahoney sat looking at something fascinating on the woodwork which left Bess, who looked up at her with her soft eyes and smiled. It wasn't a welcoming sort of smile, not given in friendship. It was the look of someone who had something to say and was going to enjoy the misery it brought. Molly swallowed hard and nodded back before wiping her warm hands on her loose pants. A seat was pulled out for her and she sat down. James sat next to her and she took a breath. God's Bess was beautiful. She'd forgotten how stunning she was for all her bad temper and ill tongue. Her blond hair spilled over her shoulders and her skin was somehow still pale and free from blemish. Bess picked up her wineglass with a grace Molly could only dream of and drank effortlessly. Her arms were smooth, long and without a hint of excess flesh or bulky muscle either. Molly felt plain in comparison; drab and shrewish. She was no beauty and being sat near one only made her feel small.
"Molly! How are you? You look well?" God's even her voice was that of an angel compared to her own.
"I'm fine thank you," Molly said, doing her best to smile. The one on Bess' face was a hollow imitation of one that much was clear.
"Let's get this done, why are you here?" James asked his voice brought no warmth to the gathering. Molly suppressed a shudder.
"No need to be rude Hook," Bess said, "I don't want to be here either, still, needs must and here we are. We were attacked by slavers two days ago and in desperate need of repair."
"Don't you have a carpenter?"
"Had, his chest was caved in by a stray cannonball," Bess replied.
"That'll happen in a sea battle," Mahoney said. Bess shot him a withering look, which he ignored. The door to the cabin banged open making Molly jump, in stepped Stef carrying a large silver platter on his shoulder. He placed it carefully on the table before backing out the door. James lifted the lid from the tray and a wave of steam escaped into the air, filling it with the delightful smell of roast salt pork and gravy. The smell made Molly's mouth water; it was a real treat instead of the ship's biscuit they'd been munching on these past few days.
"We're a little short on supplies at present," James said as he began cutting the meat. There was a general murmur of agreement and a wave of dismissal from the guests. Someone's stomach made a groan as the food was handed out. There was a side plate of hard tack and Molly took a couple and placed them in the gravy. The room remained quiet as the company ate; all that could be heard was the scritch of cutlery on plate and the contented munching of people's jaws.
"Short rations or no, that was a lovely meal." Davey said.
James nodded, "Aye," he put aside his cutlery and leaned forward, focusing all his attention on his ex-wife. "You'll be wanting the aid of Matthew then?"
"And what do you have for me in return? You didn't think I'd give you aid just because you asked for it?"
"There, and I thought you'd changed," Bess snorted. She leaned back in her chair and stretched her long legs underneath the table.
"Don't kid yourself," James replied, "What have you got that could possibly interest me into helping you?" His tone had changed just a slight bit, the words sounded like a threat now rather than an offer for help. Bess looked up at Molly and gave another one of her wicked smiles.
"Oh?" Mahoney looked at Molly with a curious gaze and she swallowed hard. She didn't like where this was going.
"I've got some information on some traders, apparently they're transporting a new weapon in a few days, one that could change the powers in these waters, if you get my meaning," she said. James pushed his hair back from his head and shrugged.
"Nebatian's have been saying that for years."
"This is from the Swari," she replied. James sat up. The Swari were the nation opposed to the Nebatian rule of the waves. They'd been the target of slavers for centuries and had only recently begun to fight back in an organised way. Their ships were among the best being built but the Nebatian numbers were vastly superior. It was going to be a long while before a major dent could be made in the Nebatian supremacy on the seas. If they'd invented a new weapon it could change everything, although Molly doubted whether Bess was capable in telling the whole truth. She'd do anything to get what she wanted, including lie.
"And what proof do you have?" John asked.
"Still such a disbeliever?" Bess said turning to face the quartermaster. "I stole papers from a Nebatian just before we left Nass."
"And how do we know they're genuine?" Mahoney said.
"He was from House Wolf, his papers are signed and were sealed, of course, that is now broken. They're dated a month ago," Bess said. "You can have them when my ship is repaired."
James nodded and appeared to be considering her words. He folded his arms across his chest and sat back. "You're words are interesting but I need some time to consider your offer. Return to your ship and I will discuss it with my crew," he said.
"Very well," Bess said rising to her feet, she clearly knew a dismissal when she heard one. Davey followed her and Mahoney showed her out the cabin. Stef entered and cleared away the dirty plates, leaving the table clear. A few moments later Mahoney returned and the look on his face was as grim as those that had remained inside.
James pushed back from the table and poured four glasses of brandy. He kept a bottle in the drawer in his desk. It seemed a good moment to break it out. He passed the glasses round before flopping back into his chair. He let out a deep sigh before looking at each of them in turn. "Thoughts?"
"She's lying," John said.
"I don't think so." Molly said.
"No, she's not telling everything but she has too much to lose by deceiving us."
"Molly's right. Bess has a habit of fussing her hair when she's lying; tonight she was as calm as ever. She needs us more than we need her, she'll know that, so she's got to offer us something. Thing is, what is she hiding?" James asked. He pushed his hair back once more.
"We should leave her foundering," Mahoney said, "She ain't nothing but trouble and we want no part in that."
"But this weapon could make us a lot of money," John said, "We're for the Swari, always have been and if they need a hand protecting what's theirs we should be do it. They'll be grateful, besides, if this Wolf has papers, he won't be the only one. Could be the Swari already know about it."
"It could be Aurelio in need of assistance and we owe him." Mahoney said with a nod.
"But it means helping the bitch and that's the stickler." James said. He took a long pull of the brandy and stifled a yawn. Molly picked up her glass and swirled the dark liquid around in her glass before taking a sip herself. The hot liquid coursed down her throat and settled into her stomach. Gathering warmth spread through her body and she felt her limbs grow heavy. She too yawned and realised how tired she was. "Gentlemen, I will make the call in the morning. Alert Matthew and have him make ready just in case." Mahoney and John nodded and rose from their tables and left them alone. Molly yawned again.
"I hope the evening wasn't too boring for you," James said.
"Not at all," Molly replied getting to her feet. She was shattered and knew she should retire to the comfort of her hammock. To stay in the cabin was to get no sleep at all. James looked into her face and smiled.
"I've tired you out these past nights?" He crossed the floor and ran a rough finger along her cheek. Molly didn't stop him, "I'll let you go for the one night, if you promise not to deprive me of your warmth for too long," he said. His voice was little more than a whisper and the gathering glow almost made her change her mind. When he leaned over and placed his lips on her cheek, the kiss was chaste, brotherly, although there was nothing brotherly about the look in his eyes.
"I promise," she said, "Now let me go before you change your mind."
"Very well," he sounded disappointed but there was no way she could manage anything more than staggering to her hammock. She got to her feet and placed her glass on the table.
"Thanks for letting me be here," she said as she reached the door.
With his words, she left the cabin and made her way back to her hammock. She only just remembered climbing in and pulling the blanket over her.