I have actually been writing the last few days, but I’ve been writing on paper, and I’m three chapters behind in typing things up.
The first week I’d been aboard the Lionfish, one of my skirts had been stained with pitch as I used the sticky tar to maintain the waterproofing of the decks. Once dried, the pitch would protect the wood from rot. The same tar was soaked into linen and wrapped around staves to make torches, and the same tar was spread all over the ropes to waterproof them.
It would have been too difficult to access the cask of pitch clandestinely, so I waited until I needed to use some to caulk the hull, and secreted the stained skirt, torn to strips, into the bottom of my bucket. I stirred the strips around in the oily pitch as I worked, the crew none the wiser. The only problem was deciding what to do with the catalytic skirt until I was ready for it. I couldn’t very well put the oily mess back in Mary’s chest… she’d be sure to notice it. In the end I took a chance and left it in one of the longboats. When the time was right, I’d use the oil-soaked rags as tinder to set the Lionfish aflame. For now, it was ready, waiting.
Sailing into Les Îles at Marseille, my moment came. Just after sundown, I was on deck alone. I snuck into the galley and pinched a cleaver, the only way I’d get a weapon. Back on deck I carefully climbed the mast, cleaver in hand. I didn’t have to go far. The mainsail was tied down at the boom, and it was easy to hack through the canvas where it was secured to the rings holding the sheet to the mast. I freed the mast from the boom a little at a time, careful to let the massive sail slump to the deck slowly. A thunderous thump would surely give me away.
Climbing down, I paused. What I’d already done was enough to get me killed. There was no going back. I dragged one side of the sheet across the deck, covering the trapdoor that would allow my shipmates to come up and find me. I bunched the sail up over the trapdoor as much as I could, but there was canvas everywhere.
I couldn’t name nor use all the bizarre gunnery tools, but each had a long wooden handle, so I stacked them at the base of the mast, where they could act as kindling. I uncoiled loose ropes and scattered them around. It was time.
My pitch-soaked skirt I nestled among the staves of the gunners’ tools and took a lantern down with which to ignite the cleansing fire that would save David and I both from these murderers. Standing before the mainmast with the light in my hand, I prayed for the souls of my shipmates as I had prayed for the crew of Triomphe. I let the lantern drop to the deck, where it shattered, oil splashing onto rope and cloth. The flame, however, extinguished itself either in the wind of the drop or the splash of oil. I had to find another lantern to get the pile to ignite. The oil wouldn’t burn for long, but the pitch would help catch the hotter-burning ropes and sails, which would burn long enough to catch the timbers. Without a catalyst, oil would do little more than scorch the damp deck.
By the light of my little bonfire, I prepped one of the longboats for my getaway, and after a moment’s thought, decided to try to cripple the other, just in case. I hacked away at its hull with my cleaver, but the stout boat surrendered only little chips, and the knife made an awful thudding which might wake someone. I had to leave it.
When I turned back toward the mast, I was taken aback at how much the fire had grown in only a few minutes. Flames spread diligently across the canvas, already more than a man’s height away from the mainmast. I skirted the fire around to the opposite rail, where my boat was waiting to carry me to the shore. I stacked my cleaver, oars, and a little bundle of pilfered foods into the boat and began lowering the winches, a little at a time, one side and then the other.
It was a quick thing with two, but on my own it was too slow. The gathering heat at my back urged me to find a faster solution. When I peeked behind me, I found that the ropes leading upward had caught, and the fire was starting to spread to the higher sails. The deck was awash with light and the terrifying heat. Every part of me wanted to flee the growing inferno. In the end I had to let the boat fall the rest of the way to the water, but doing so meant letting the ropes pull free of their pulleys. With no ropes to climb down, I’d have to jump. I sat on the rail, letting the little boat drift away a bit so I wouldn’t land on it. I thought of my last leap into the sea, of the water burning in my lungs. Ollie wouldn’t be here to pull me out. The sea was calmer, though. I’d have to pull myself into the boat, or stay and burn.
I leapt, clenching my teeth to keep silent. The water hit me like a punch in the guts, but I struggled to keep calm and focused. I took small breaths as high as I could as I paddled lamely toward the longboat. I managed to pull myself into the boat, but either in the fall or the climb onboard, I had dumped an oar and my stash of food. With the clothes on my back and a single oar, I turned away from the Lionfish and began rowing toward Marsaille.
I was only a few yards away when the first screams rang out. I paddled as fast as I could toward land and peace, and forced myself to hear not Sam and Ollie and Mary and Reece, but the ghosts of their victims. The screams lasted an eternity, chasing me tirelessly as I paddled away. When all finally fell silent, I wept. Exhausted from climbing and rowing, I lay down in my little boat and slept.