The Pirate and The Thief Ch. 12byLucreace©
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Three days later, Molly's mind had been thoroughly changed. Bess was as hellish as ever. The entire crew of the Sea Witch were sick of being near the Red Plunder and Molly was sure they were sick of being there too. Bess' demands while her ship was being repaired became more and more ridiculous. She wanted replacement sail, fresh stores and the entire crew working under her command. She contradicted Matthew's orders and sent her complaints directly to James. Molly hadn't seen anything of the captain for the entire three days, except for the odd glimpse here and there. He's been overseeing the work after Matthew's first report, been coming back after sunset and leaving early. She'd kept to her duty as lookout and had not encountered Bess since that first evening dinner. Still, time was coming where she needed to return to her other chore of sail making and that meant sitting on the forecastle in the sweltering hot sun once more.
On the afternoon of the third day, she picked up her sailcloth and needles and took her place on deck. Molly was surprised when she was joined by Mahoney and Sasha. They both had grim looks on their faces as they picked up their own swatches of cloth and sat near her, "What's going on?" she asked, unable to keep the question from erupting from her mouth.
"Captain's orders," Mahoney said with a snort.
"They need new sheets and we're expected to deliver." Sasha said as she stabbed her needle into the canvass on her lap.
"I thought we'd be done with this by now, wasn't it meant to take two days at the most?" Molly asked as she continued to make her own sail.
"Try telling that to her," said Mahoney with a jerk of his head, "She's taking him for a fool once more and we're the ones doing the hard graft, the more things change the more they stay the bloody same." He returned to his sail then and no amount of looks or pestering would convince him to speak any more on the subject. They stitched in silence. As the sun climbed further into the sky it became masked by clouds, light at first but as the day wore onwards, they changed to heavy, thick affairs that made the air cloying and hard to breath. Then the wind died. Sweat trickled down between Molly's shoulders and she shifted where she was sitting, trying to alleviate the discomfort. She wiped her head with the back of her hand and let out a sigh. Glancing up, she saw her two silent companions were in a similar position. She put her finished patch to one side and got to her feet.
The noise on deck was muffled as she took a long drink from the water barrel. Noticing in an offhand way that it was getting rather low. Hopefully they'd stop somewhere soon to restock. Mind you, the way the clouds had become heavy and the air stifling, it would seem rainwater would make a decent substitute. Distant buffing sounds came from the scrubbing of the deck, the usually brisk scuffing was replaced by a languid scrape, scrape, scrape. As she replaced the ladle, the noise stopped. The ship's bell rang the change of the hour but instead of the hustle scuffle to the galley, a despondent crew heaved its way to find dinner. Molly couldn't face anything. Food was the last thing on her mind as she picked up another patch of canvass and flopped next to her companions. Neither of them had moved either as the watch changed, just continued stitching in silence and sweat.
Clicking boot heels on planks that joined the two ships was the next thing that drew Molly's concentration away from her sail. It was James, red faced and scowling. In his hand was a boarding axe. "All hands on deck!" This brought a hive of activity to the deck. Finally! The boarding axe was used on the lines tying the two ships together. A short chopping action brought the whole affair to a close, the ropes twanged into the sea and the Sea Witch began to drift away. "Loose the main sails and maintopgallant," he barked. Pirates scrambled to obey his orders but with very little wind they didn't make much way. Molly looked over at the Red Plunder and saw Bess staring after them. Her face was the same as beetroot and her fists were clenched on the rail.
"You get back here you cowards! I'll hunt you across the seas and blow you to Maylan himself! Get back here! Get back here!" Her voice was shrill, her hair dishevelled. For the first time, Molly realised how ridiculous Bess looked. As if she'd read her mind, Bess looked straight at her. Molly gave a wave and the scowl that developed could have withered an oak. Molly just smiled before returning to her sail.
Bess' sheets remained furled but the lack of wind made for slow going. Her ranting could be heard for a long time after the lines had been cut. The amusement with which the crew found her calls was heartening. Eventually, her voices faded and the only sound was the hushed voices of the crew and the whisper of the waves on the ship's prow. The wind was a mere breath and the air was as oppressive as ever. The sun had set completely when Molly felt like eating. It was stifling and after the first mouthful, the food clawed around her mouth and tasted of nothing. She forced it down before pushing her plate away and leaning back against the bulkhead. Her eyes were heavy but she couldn't face going below. The mess at least got a draft from the hatch but the forecastle would be unbearable. Especially seeing how the day watch would be sleeping in their hammocks adding body heat and smell to the mix.
Molly returned to the forecastle where John was waiting for her. "Knew you'd come back here."
"Maylan knows it's hotter than sin down there," she replied.
"Aye," nodded John. He turned to face the see and looked up through a device Molly didn't know the name of. Looking through a telescope part of the device, he fiddled with a couple of dials. It clicked and a smaller part of the contraption moved. Satisfied, John removed his eyes from the telescope and nodded, "Well, least we're heading in the right direction."
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"Ventia?" Molly frowned.
"It's a little free port to the south of the archipelago. We can pick up supplies and clean our bottom. We're due for it and we'll haul a lot faster when we're done. Give us all a chance to stretch our legs before we make our next move." John said.
"You mean we're going to-"
"Dry land! Aye lass, dry land."
"How long will it take?"
"Depends on the wind, you should know that. Still," he added when he saw her hurt expression, "If we find a fair blow again then it'll be a couple of days."
"Great!" Molly said with a smile. She meant it too; it would be good to get off the ship and onto land. To stretch her legs a little would be a fine thing. She turned to look out across the vast expanse of sea. It was black save for the little circle of light that surrounded the ship. There was no moon and the stars were now fully masked by heavy clouds. A slight breeze tugged at Molly's braided hair, it caught her clothing and brushed her face. It was like a hot breath.
"Get yourself up that ratline and begin furling that mainsail Molly," John said. She caught the frown on his face and raced to obey his order. His shout followed her and as soon as she was on the spar she was bundling the sail with her shipmates. The fore and mizzen were doing the same, had almost done when the hot rain found them. It whipped down, stinging and hot. The moisture offered no relief from the heat, in fact, it had made it worse. Molly panted and leaked sweat as she pulled her section of sail into its fold. Once done, she flicked water out of her face. The wind picked up, racing through the rigging, singing a sing in the ratlines.
The rigging was wet and Molly clung to the ropes with extra care as she made her way back down to the deck. She made it without slipping. The sea had turned from choppy to heavy, great rolling waves were forming. Molly's heart pounded in her ears as the ship began to pitch and roll around. She glanced at the wheel and noticed James was there along with Mahoney. Both were working the wheel. The waves were getting higher, the wind showed no sign of relenting. All hands were at their stations, waiting for the order from the Captain. Molly took her place at the side; her job was to check the knots on the rigging – to make sure none of them would fail and let a sail loose. To catch the wind at this speed was to risk breaking a mast.
It was a real struggle to get around the deck in the wind. With the deep plummeting of the ship into every wave trough and then the harsh climb. Couple that with the motion of the ship it was nearly impossible to move. The rain continued to whip Molly as she moved. It stung her face, her chest and legs. She was soaked through and the wet cotton rubbed against her skin as she clambered her way across the deck. There was a bright flash, the air sounded as though it was being ripped apart. Or was it the air? Molly looked up into the rain and the ship shuddered, deep beneath her. Another flash was followed by another shudder. It was no lightening. Cannon fire! Who the hell would fire on them in this weather?
Muffled shouts filled the air. A deep boom answered below deck. She was aware that the ship had changed course and was now plunging across the rollers at a different angle. Molly pulled herself along and checked the knots on the starboard side of the ship. They were holding. Fighting her way across as the ship took a nosedive into the next trough was her main concern now. She was thrust forward as the ship fired again. She made it and caught herself against the railing. The scuppers poured water back into the rough sea, cold water washed over her feet and she clung to the railing. She spat a mouthful of salt water back into the sea. The boom of cannon fired once more, this time, there was a crack followed by an awful splintering sound. Molly glanced around and watched as the mizzen mast fell backwards. The pace agonisingly slow as it plummeted into the waiting sea.
A boarding axe! Molly fought her way to where they were kept in a weighted box and pulled one out. It was heavy in her hand but she heaved it up. The ship, pulled by the weight of the fallen mast, was listing to the side. They were no longer slicing through the waves. Great towering walls of sea threatened to swamp them. Send them down to the depths never to see the light of day again. She struggled up the quarter deck to the place where the fallen rigging strained over the rails. Looking out into the churning water she could make out a struggling figure. Stef! He'd been up the mizzen when it had fallen. "Swim!" she shouted. Her voice was whipped away by the wind. There was no way he'd have heard her. She was joined by other crew members, their voices joined hers. Just as futile.
Danny, Stef's bunkmate, was leaning over the rail, screaming as loud as he could for him to swim to safety. The ship listed further, pulling them so they were broadside onto the wave, the next one would consume them. James appeared at the rail and looked over. There was an axe in his hand and a grim expression on his face. He looked up to the sky for a brief moment. The crew stood back from the rail, letting the captain through. Raising the axe, he brought it down hard and severed the first of the trailing rigging lines. Another gave, then another. All the while the crew watched helplessly as the broken mast was cast adrift. Silently, the last of the ropes was cut, all hope of seeing Stef again died. Molly watched as a wave engulfed her friend. He did not reappear.
Once upright again, the ship crested the wave as it was meant to, they'd no longer be dragged under the sea. A sharp order brought the crew back to this world and to their posts once more. Molly did her duty but found it mechanical. Numb would be a better word to describe it. How could James be that cold? Just cast off a life like that as though it meant nothing. Stef was a decent friend and she knew he worked as hard as he could. She could see his smiling face as she checked the knots at this side of the ship. She wasn't even sure what side she was on anymore. There was just the sting of rain, the roar of the wind and the endless motion of the ship. No one was firing. There was just the noise of the sea.
Molly didn't know when it was the storm had blown itself out. She came back to herself when the sun shone bright into her face. There was warmth, clear and bright, in its light. A huge yawn escaped her and she jumped when a hand gripped her shoulder, "You need to rest." It was John.
"Stef..." she let the name trail off. John fixed with a smile that didn't reach his eyes. Molly looked up; James was leaning over the wheel, soaked through like she was, tired and aching too no doubt. Her legs were heavy and she knew she looked awful. Still... She nodded at John and crossed the deck. Pausing a moment at the steps she swallowed her fear and climbed them. She walked over to the wheel and waited for James to notice her. When he looked up, he appeared haggard. "I'm going to sleep in the cabin," she said. He nodded before returning his attention to the ship and the sea.
Once in the cabin, she peeled off her wet clothes and left them in a heap to one side of the door. She slipped between the cool covers and as soon as her head was on the pillow her eyes drifted shut. Molly didn't sleep though. She dozed until she heard the cabin door open and then close once more. James sighed; it was a deep heavy noise. She let him remove his sodden clothing and heard him pull on dry ones. "I'm not staying." he said.
"How could you do it?" she asked.
"To Stef, how could you do it?" Water trickled down her face and she brushed it aside. Tears weren't going to help her at the moment.
"You think I wanted that?"
"We could have saved him," she said.
"I don't know, we could have done something!" her voice rose as she spoke. James came over and sat on the bed beside her. "Anything at all. You just cast him adrift!"
"Would you have risked everyone one board for one life?" he asked. He moved to touch her face but she turned her head away. The tears fled unchecked down her face.
"You wouldn't have done it if it was me on that mast," she said. He shook his head and stood up.
"I'm not even going to answer that." He said.
"You would? How? How can you-"
"Because I have to. It's one life against the fifty two living here. That's right. Fifty two lives against one. I know each by name. From the moment they step on these decks to the moment they leave. They trust my judgement, my capability in keeping them safe. If that means the life of one I love then so be it. I cannot risk everyone for the sake of a single soul. That's the truth of it." He said. "But don't you think for one moment that it doesn't hurt and that it's an easy decision to make." He slammed the door behind him on his last word. Molly flung herself down onto the pillow once more and sobbed into it. Her cries lengthened and eventually she fell into a fitful sleep.