I wrote this a couple days ago but hadn’t typed it yet. I’m kind of behind in the typing-things-up department. Also in the having-things-to-type department. This chapter takes me up to 8,690 words, which is above par for the 5th, which is when I wrote this. However, I only have about 300 words written for yesterday, and today’s par is 11,669, which means I need to write another 2,700 words (give or take). Today. So… yeah.
Reece explained with great pride that Sam had swum from the little longboat under the hull of the French ship, where he’d drilled a hole through the thinnest part of the hull. The French naval galleon Triomphe would slowly fill with water. By morning she’d be doomed.
Reece’s unbridled glee at the sinking of hundreds of French souls made me physically ill. I imagined three, five, maybe seven hundred of my countrimen, any one of whom could be my David, drowning or worse–being torn apart by sharks. My mind flashed to a time weeks past, when one of our hens was bounced off the deck by a sudden harsh wave. Within seconds, sharks had torn her apart, blood and feathers erupting from the churning sea. Even over a hen, whom we would have killed anyway, the carnage had sickened me. To think of a human person being subjected to such a gruesome death…
I couldn’t speak to Reece. I put myself to bed, but could not sleep. My thoughts returned again and again to the dying screams of our hen. I wept, prayed, and wept again. I do not know how much time passed before I finally drifted off, but the morning found me bitter and tired, and so distracted that I nearly fell from the yard.
The men were in high spirits, and even Mary seemed extra cheerful. Their perverse joy threw me deeper into my anger, and seeing Sam clapped on the back for his disgusting murder made my blood boil. There had been other mornings when I’d noticed that the crew seemed strangely chipper, and I wondered how many slaughters I’d slept through. Sylvie’s mother had been right about the Reformers. These people were demons.
Behind the makeshift canvas walls of my corner of the ship, I considered my resources as I had the morning I’d found the cursed Lionfish and her vile crew. I wouldn’t be able to sneak food out as I had from home. I left my things aboard when I went out onto the docks, so any kind of parcel would be suspicious. I still had the clothes I’d brought with me, though one of the skirts had been stained with pitch. I’d foregone their wear except on shore since arriving, instead wearing the sailcloth breeches all the crew wore. Even Mary usually wore pants onboard. Climbing aloft in a skirt would have been both dangerous and immodest, and even hoisting line in a loose skirt could have gotten me tangled. The rags I’d brought from home had been replaced, and could be replaced again. What I had could be smuggled off as I’d smuggled my money on. They could be tied around my legs or stuffed into breeches under my skirts. I was down to one pair of stockings, too, the second having worn through.
When next we were in port, I could go aboard as if looking for David, and simply not return. With four months of sailing under my belt, I could surely find another ship which would carry me forward. A ship crewed by more respectable men, who wouldn’t ask me to help them murder my own kin.
As we guided the Lionfish toward the harbor at Cannes, I trembled with anticipation. It had been easy to escape from Hotel Bessette, a second-rate maison full of old women. But the Lionfish was different. It traveled all over the Mediterranean. I’d already been all across the south of France and Spain, and back across France again, nearly to the coast of Italy. If they wanted to, they could track me down. And no matter the size of the ship, for Sam’s devil drill could sink the greatest ship to the depths.
Would they really come after me? They were my friends… and yet, they’d wanted to protect their secret. They hadn’t shown me right away. Would they let me leave with their dark secret? Worse yet, could I leave knowing they’d continue dooming innocent sailors to terrible deaths? Could I stop them? I couldn’t swim like Sam, couldn’t sink the Lionfish like she had sunk the others. I was just a scrawny, untrained girl: I couldn’t fight them. Beside their muscles, they had pistols and swords.
The shore loomed as I considered my dark predicament. I couldn’t let them keep killing people. I couldn’t leave until I had a plan to stop them once and for all. Steeling my resolve, I declined to go ashore, feigning apathy and playing cards with the crew as usual. I forced myself to act as though nothing was the matter. They couldn’t learn of my intention to escape.
The days passed like years, and every port we visited was an agonizing test. To pass up an opportunity for easy freedom was excruciating, but the worst came when I was on watch duty one night. The captain suddenly appeared on deck in his unseasonable long cape, and ordered me to wake Sam and Ollie and two more. I froze, but I had to obey. I forced myself to descend into the hold to call the headsmen to the block, praying every step that David’s was not the ship they’d sink tonight.
Abovedecks, the lanterns were snuffed. Lights from our quarry ship danced ever closer as we slipped, hidden, through the waves. Sam and Ollie silently prepared their murderous tools, and the Captain whispered to me to go aloft with the match and a spyglass to wait. When I saw the longboat coming back, I’d light the match and drop it as a signal to the others. I swallowed hard and began the long, dark climb. Aloft, I felt on a planet apart from the men below. Their hidden lantern on the deck cast a sliver of light, by which I saw the men cross themselves, and the longboat start to sink into the shadow of the hull. A sudden wave hit the ship, and I nearly lost my grip. When the fear subsided and balance restored, I saw the salvation of the sailors at hand. I slipped away from the mast and out onto the yard until I hung out over the rail. I steeled myself, and when the next wave jolted the ship and flung me sideways, I let go.
Even if I’d meant to maintain my silence, I wouldn’t be able to. I was screaming the moment I was free of the ship, and I hit the water in utter panic. I kicked and clawed frantically to keep from sinking. My clothing weighed me down, and every rise of the sea threatened to push me under. I inhaled sharply and felt knives of cold salt in my lungs. Coughing and retching I fought for the surface. Light and sound erupted above me, and I fought harder. Finally, strong hands pulled me from the sea.
I had been yanked into the longboat. The bulk of the water flushed from my lungs and I breathed sharp, painful, welcome breaths. Panic and relief muddled in the opiatic haze of adrenaline. Sam wrapped me in his blanket and held me as I shivered with shock. The little boat was hoisted back up to the deck. Ollie lifted me over and carried me down to my bunk, carrying me as easily as I would a doll.
As we descended, I smiled to myself. The lights were all on, and the shouting of the men and my own screams would have alerted even the most negligent watchmen. There was no way they could continue tonight. As exhaustion carried me off to sleep, I was prouder than a queen. It had been terrifying, but I’d saved countless lives. If only I could invent such a distraction every night… but I couldn’t simply throw myself off the ship every night. They’d surely see through it, and in any case, I wasn’t sure I could make myself jump again. The sabotage lifted my spirits for days, and in the afterglow of my leap, I found inspiration for how I’d stop the Lionfish once and for all.