Eleyna held her body entirely still, not drawing a breath, feeling the three cold pricks of Rot’s steel fingers on her throat. She was the Captain now. That meant that this was her ship, and she’d be damned if any half-wit First Mate could wrest it from her.
As for Eleyna, she saw nothing, heard nothing. All she knew was that a red cloud was covering her eyes, and a feeling of boiling blood filled her ears. That roar and wash drowned out everything else, leaving only herself, Gauliga, and the space needed to get her blade out from her hand and into his heaving chest.
They called me the Lieutenant back then, tho’ we had no proper ranks on board ship, yeh see. Cap’n Seymour was enamored o’ the parr-limentary form ‘a government, thought of ‘imself as first among equals. ‘Twas a right old mess on the Black Eyetooth, always with yammerin’, debatin’, holdin’ cloture votes. Ye couldn’t propose a measure ta set in a course fer mayhem an’ plunder without some snaggletoothed son o’ the yardarm attachin’ a rider to increase grog rations tenfold. Madness, I tell ye.
“Well this is a right mess you’ve gotten us into now.”
“For certain, Maurizio. These spiny Gurnards are nearly inedible, no matter how long you sauté them. I don’t know if there’s anything to be done.”
“Actually, begging your lordship’s pardon, I was referring to the pirate ship that seems to have sailed between us and the Ancilla. The one with the big, black sails, and the blood-red flags and all of that.”
“Draw, foul wretch, or I’ll spit you like a roast pig. For you face none other than the Dread Pirate Eleyna, scourge of the nine seas, master of every coast. From the northernmost shoals to the southerly depths. From the cradle of the winds in the east to the western edge of the world where the sun drops below the ocean, crashing down great heavenly waterfalls beyond the understanding of man. Beg me for mercy, an’ I’ll have yer shinbones to steer me tiller. Defy me, and I’ll sew yer guts inna garters, use ‘em to string yeh round the masthead an’ leave ye there till the gulls make nests outa yer eye sockets. Look on I, an’ tremble!”
Everyone in the tavern was well aware that Viorel wanted information. And in exchange for information there was only one thing the man could be signaling for. Viorel counted out five silver pennies and laid them on the counter with a slap of his own hand.
Waiting until the bartender was on the far side of the room, polishing mugs with his back turned, the man took the pennies and whispered in Viorel’s ear. “Your life is in danger. Meet me tonight, along the docks, alone.”
With the bench in front of her, Eleyna was, perhaps, not shielded from a musket blast, should one make directly for her. She was, however, shielded from the sight of all the other musket blasts that were about, each ball making its individual way into the limb or chest or stomach of some pirate trying his best to scale the merchantman’s hull. The pirates would rise up the ship’s sides, only to be brushed back again and again by raspy torrents of gunfire, like ants caught in a sudden rainstorm, climbing for higher ground.
Maurizio had gotten an early start. He was singing a little ditty, forcing its relentless melody into Eleyna’s ears. “Yo, ho, heave off me hearty / a drink is the thing for a boarding party / two’s a plenty and three’s a crowd / but four drinks a’ rum an I’ll do you right proud. Yo, ho…” the song repeated, ad Eleyna’s nauseum, which was not helped at all by the strong list of the longboat. It made the deck of the Ancilla seem like solid land in comparison, and solid land seem a far-off, wistful memory.