It’s a daring rescue attempt on the high seas. In this action-packed story, see through the eyes of a cruel pirate captain, a cook who’s in over his head, a captive yearning for her home, a warrior from beneath the waves, and a malevolent creature that thrives on pain. Few will survive…
Written by Cera Rose Madrigal, under the name Jay Kerschner.
I’m thrown to the floor. I can’t react fast enough to put my hands before me, but the stinging pain means little. I’m far past the point of physical hurt.
The captain smirks, satisfied. “Git in yer hold.”
I’m in no position to do otherwise. I tried to fight before they took me, and I’ve tried to fight them twice since. Both were worthless attempts, and even if I could beat them, what then? Perhaps I could take out one or two of the men, but there’s an entire pirate crew on this ship. An entire crew of men who see me as nothing more than another prize, another possession.
Another helpless whore.
I push myself up to all fours and crawl back into the cage. Turn around. Turn around and fight. But I’m not strong enough. Not anymore. I’d fail, and he’d laugh, and more like than not he’d… he’d…
“That’s a good girl,” he says. Like I’m just some dumb animal. After these long months, maybe I am. Best not to think about the possibility. “Now git yer beauty sleep, dearie.”
I can say that much at least. I can still give some resistance, even if they’re only words.
He gives me a half-toothed grin. “Quite the mouth ye’ve got there. Mayhap it needs some cleanin’.”
I scowl and look away. His gaze beats down upon my back as much as his hands ever have. The eventual clank of metal when he locks me in my prison is almost a mercy. At least it means he’s leaving.
It wasn’t always this way. Before they took me prisoner, I’d been happy enough, living another simple life in another simple town. But they were cunning. Their captain found me out, and they trapped me. How long has it been since then? Three months? Four? Surely it can’t have been any longer than that.
Nothing lies within reach of my cage except for a few old fish bones. Nothing to pass the time. Nothing I can use to rid myself of his violation. There’s nothing at all to do but cry, and so I do. Tears are the best company I have.
By the smells wafting down from another level of the ship—a higher level, for there are none below me—they seem to be getting ready for their midday meal. They’ve a proper cook on board. He’s one of the only ones who has shown me at least some measure of kindness.
The feasting is loud, as always. Judging by what little I can make out of their boisterous stories, the one named Iomhair seems to be regaling the others with tales of some of his more amorous exploits from before he joined the crew. I’d guess his words hold as much fiction as they do truth, but the rest of the crew are happy to holler and applaud them all the same.
When their meal is done, the one called Ailpean comes down and approaches me.
There are a few decent folk on this ship. A few who seem like they feel some slight pity for me, who show me some shred of human decency. A few who don’t taunt me, who don’t jeer and berate and use.
Ailpean isn’t one of those few.
He sets a bucket down just beyond my reach. The sweet smell of fish is clear. At least this time it seems like a recent catch. “You wanna eat?” he asks. Gruff. Uncaring. Like most of them.
I’ve played this game before, but I won’t give him the satisfaction of giving in quickly. I can’t. But I can’t go hungry again either. I give him a slight nod, and then he says what he always says.
I stare at his ugly face, defiant.
He picks up a wrasse and dangles it in front of me. Definitely a fresh catch, most likely from sometime earlier today. Small things like that can still give me some comfort. “Come on now,” he says. Taunting. Always taunting.
It’s true. I am hungry. They keep me that way. They keep me weak. I want to resist longer… but I can’t. It looks and smells too good, and my hunger is too great. “Please.”
“Tell me you want it.”
A resigned sigh accompanies my words. “I want it.”
“Thatta girl.” He tosses the fish at my cage, and I make sure to catch it. Several times before, they’ve slipped from my hands and out of reach. On those days, I’ve gone hungrier than usual.
These teeth aren’t good for eating the things, but I make it work. It’s food enough to keep me alive into the next day. The next endless, awful day.
Ailpean sits and watches me eat. I turn my back to him, trying to get what little privacy I can, though there’s really none to be had. Just like an animal in a cage feasting on what its captors provide. That’s what I am to them. An it. A bit of entertainment for when they get bored.
But today, at least, the fish is good, not rotten or salted. It’s not much of a reprieve, but it’s something, and at this point that’s enough.
I look at him blankly and say nothing. Ailpean never gives seconds, but he often torments me with the possibility. It’s not worth my time to beg for more. It’s not worth what little dignity I might have left.
He teases for some minutes more before realizing I’m not going to play along. He leaves, and then I’m alone, surrounded by footfalls from above and the pulse of water from beyond the hull. The waters should be soothing, but they’re not. They’re a reminder. I’m caged, feet away from freedom, from home, and I can’t get there.
But still, I hold onto what hope I can. Perhaps somebody outside the ship will hear my signaling, if the sound even carries out into the water. Perhaps the captain is a braggart, proud of his “catch,” and someone will hear of me and try to help. Perhaps someone will notice I’m missing and start a search. But who? Marta—sweet Marta—is forever in my past, and Shalas won’t suspect anything is wrong until I miss our next reunion, but that’s still years away. May as well be forever.
When my thoughts get too loud, I begin knocking against the hull again. The men have caught me doing it a few times, but they probably don’t suspect my purpose for it. They likely think it’s boredom, or madness. It’s probably both.
Knock. Knock, knock. Knock.
In all these months, there’s never been a response. Most likely my call for help hasn’t even been heard. Perhaps the hull is too thick for it to even make it to the water. And even if it isn’t, there probably hasn’t been anyone listening on the other side. I can’t know, but I have to try. It’s what gives me hope.
Knock. Knock, knock. Knock.
For now, the quiet tapping. At night, when my captors are less likely to notice, I’ll increase the force. I always try. There’s nothing else to do—
—so I might as well make myself feel useful. At least—
Wait. What was that?
It came from outside.
That last sound came from outside.
I start slapping frantically at the hull, not trying to convey any message, just trying to make noise. Trying to be heard.
Somebody heard me.
Somebody is here.
The girl’s causing quite a ruckus when I get to her. I clear my throat, and when she hears me she falls still and silent. She glances up at me with a look I’ve not seen from her since the captain first brought her on board. She’s frantic and scared, yes—but those aren’t new, even if lately she’s been more resigned than anything else. But now she looks almost… what? Excited? Eager? Not something I ever see from her. She’s not even trying to cover herself up like she usually does.
“Looks like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Her eyes dart about the room. Frantic, definitely. “Let me out.” Her words are fast, certain, devoid of her usual timidity. “You’ve always been nice to me. Let me out.” She keeps looking around, almost like she’s expecting something to happen. “Now. Please.”
“Can’t do that.” The captain keeps the key to her cage, and even if I could get it, I’m not fool enough to let her loose. He would know it was me who did it, and he already doesn’t like me. Even as it is, only Quartermaster Seoc stands between me and the captain’s fury.
I find the bucket Ailpean had brought down earlier and pick out a small rockfish. It’s a shame to give it to her raw, but the captain doesn’t want me spending any extra time cooking for her. I have the time to spare, but he’s always insisted, and he’s not the sort to explain why.
When I turn back to the girl, she’s fighting with her cage’s lock. “Hey! Don’t be messing with that.”
“Need to get out… I have to get out…”
She may be muttering like a crazy person, but at least she’s not making any progress with the lock. I take a seat on a nearby crate and hold out the rockfish, putting it easily within her reach. “Want seconds?”
She doesn’t answer.
“What’s the matter?”
I think I know her better than anyone else on board does. Well, except maybe Captain Neacal, but he doesn’t know her as a person—not as the woman she is. I can’t help but feel a bit bad for her, so I offer what little I can. Conversation, mostly. Something to help her pass the time.
My question hangs in the air for a few moments until she stops clawing at the lock. She finally looks at me directly. “This is my chance. I have to go. I have to get out.”
I sigh. “We should reach port in four, maybe five days. See what I can do then.”
“That’s too long, it doesn’t work. It has to be now. Now!”
“Well, I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do now. So, want seconds?”
She looks away from me, pouting. I toss the rockfish beside her cage. “Eat and rest. When we reach land, I’ll see if I can get the captain to let you go, or trade you, or something, if I can. I wouldn’t hold my breath though.”
She scowls, frustrated. “Then go away.”
That’s one thing I can do, so I leave her be. Perhaps she just needs some time alone.
I go back to the kitchen to tidy things up and lay out what will be needed for dinner, and the captive’s strange behavior soon slips from my mind.
I’ve found it. I’ve found her… or at least, I’ve found somebody. Somebody who needs help, trapped in the belly of the beast.
The sounds of struggle from within fall silent. All that’s left to hear is the growling of the water as the beast cuts through its surface.
I observe the beast’s course and speed, figuring out where it will be when I bring my brothers and the Ladies to it. I’ve not seen such a creature living before, but Lalispawn Fel told me about them. The beast carries creatures our own size, which are somehow able to command their host. It’s a curious thing to consider. In most symbiotic relationships, the larger creature guides the smaller ones. Regardless of how this beast decides where to go, all I can do is guess where it will be. A guess will have to be enough.
I spread my fins and propel myself down, glad to distance myself from the beast. It did not seem bothered by my presence, even when I touched upon its strange skin, but out here alone I’d rather not risk it noticing me. The light from above dims as I descend, until I’ve gone far enough. Then, I head septward, toward where we had split up in search of the beast. I find the core of the pod soon enough.
Lalispawn Wes sees me first, and I call out to him. «I win.»
He darts off to gather the other scouts, and soon we’re all assembled. There are twelve of us males, but one of us isn’t right. He is possessed by the brollachan. My other brothers and I keep away from him. His presence fouls the water, but the Ladies have indicated he is not a threat to us. Still, I cannot help but be wary. The brollachan is a stranger, and a dangerous one, and he is much too near the Ladies for comfort.
Taisspawn Tel surges up to me and chirps. «You win?»
He dives away, humiliated by his failure. The shoaling season approaches, but now he shall not be a part of it. I have won. I have taken the place he was sure he had secured.
The two Ladies—Lady Mesi and Lady Kyla—approach, each flanked by their retinue. I chirp at them. «I win.» Then I point out the direction where I found the beast.
Lady Kyla smiles and glances at Lady Mesi, who nods and bursts forward in the direction I pointed. I turn about to keep up with her, and then the whole pod is moving as one. Two Ladies, and me and my ten brothers, plus the one possessed by the brollachan, all rush forward to find the beast and free its prisoner.
I’ve not had a good fight in many lights. I whistle back to my brothers. «Battle!»
A chorus of responses. Even Lady Mesi joins in. The brollachan does not.
The beast comes into view, and we ready the attack.