Caddie stumbled outside into the cooling night air and slammed the door behind her, furiously scrubbing at her eyes with both hands. Her sight smeared with fresh tears and she fumbled across the deck, half-blinded. Too numb to think, force of habit drove her toward the shrouds; if she could but get to the fighting top, perhaps her world would be put to rights again.
Things always took on a new shape from above...
She had not made it more than five paces when something smacked against her shoulder.
Caddie reeled sideways, blinking hard.
"Where might you be goin'?"
Jack's voice was thick and slurred; he shifted, blocking her path. Caddie blearily recalled assigning him first watch, but could find neither the words nor the will to engage. She elbowed past, keeping her head down—but strong fingers clamped around her wrist.
He stank of brandy.
"Ya been in that bloody cabin... since this mornin', ain't ye?" he huffed, moist breath washing over her neck. "Cap'n keepin' ye to himself these days?"
She gritted her teeth and wrenched her arm, but his bruising grip tightened. A quick glance confirmed that only the blurred silhouette of Josiah Copper stood like a post before the helm: if more men were abovedecks, he wouldn't dare to approach her like this—even with a head full of booze.
Caddie opened her mouth, but all that came out was a garbled oath.
She twisted around, searching for her familiar pistol. Instead, her fingers brushed the cold hilt of the smallsword. She grasped it awkwardly with her left hand—and yanked. It stuck halfway in the scabbard, hampered by Jack's closeness and her limited reach.
"I'll kill ye!" she managed, gasping, and elbowed him hard in the gut. "I'll bloody kill ye, Jack!"
Relief crashed over her as Jack let go, stumbling a few steps to one side with a befuddled laugh. She cursed herself, heart hammering. Another day, she would have seen it coming—berated him for drinking at his post—thrown the bloody articles in his face—
Panting, Caddie leaped into the shrouds, climbing up and up with shaking hands. A faint breeze dried the tears on her face, and as she alighted on the platform, she caught the rigging in one hand and sank slowly to her knees. The last of sunset had faded, muted streaks of color reflecting in the waves, and a few stars were already glittering above the sails. She hissed through her teeth, lashing herself to the fighting top with a frayed bit of rope she had fastened there years ago, and then drew her knees into her chest and leaned back against the mast.
How could ye let him catch ye like that?
Her head was still pounding with shock and embarrassment, but at least Josiah Copper had been the only hand to see it—a man who valued silence more than guineas—and three to one that Jack would have forgotten the encounter by morning. Blinking and rubbing her bruised wrist, she stared listlessly across the darkening sea, letting her thoughts drift from the problem of Jack to the silly wet tears on her face.
Caddie could count on one hand the times she had glimpsed a man weeping, and if any did, he was sure to be roundly mocked.
"Dinnae cry, Caddie girl," she sniffed irritably, dashing a fist across her eyes.
Her captain was dying.
He was dying, and there was nothing she could do.
Caddie only became aware that she had dozed upon awakening. The moon shone high and bright above the silvery masthead, and a gentle wind had picked up in the night; she must have been rousted by the sound of the rigging in a breeze. The shrouds creaked below her...
Someone was climbing up.
She sucked in a breath, bolting upright and drawing the smallsword with a gentle shing. Her pulse pounded in her ears, the tip of the sword shivering near the edge of the fighting top.
The creaking stopped.
She relaxed her grip on the hilt, taking shallow breaths.
"I know yer up there—Copper told me."
Caddie opened her mouth, thought better of it, and closed it again. With another creak and a clatter, Hiram's sandy head peered over the edge of the wooden platform. It was difficult to make out any expression in the dark, but his eyes glittered up at her perch.
"Hungry?" he asked mildly. "I can get ye some grog or a bit o' biscuit."
She shook her head, scrubbing her face on her sleeve and turning away.
For a moment the only sound was the whistling of the wind and the canvases flapping every now and again. Hiram cleared his throat, and then folded his arms across the fighting top, balancing himself there for a moment. "Y'know, I been thinkin'... per'aps it's best to let bygones be bygones, eh?" He grunted, as if affirming his own question. "Specially in times like these."
Shrugging, Caddie stared out at the starlit sea, fresh tears pooling in the corners of her eyes. Hiram waited an interminably long while in silence, and then sighed and reached into his shirt. He withdrew something that gleamed like metal, and plonked it onto the fighting top near her feet.
"Well, I mostly just came t'give ye this, fer keeps."
When she made no response, he pushed himself off the platform and disappeared, the shrouds creaking again as he descended. Caddie squinted at the shining object. The Avenger tilted and it rolled across the platform. She stopped it with a finger, then picked it up and turned it over in her hands.
Hiram's rusty spyglass.
"Hy?" she croaked.
He gave a short grunt.
Thoughts and fears whirled through her mind like a flock startled gulls, but only one of them rose above the rest; only one of them mattered. She clenched the spyglass tightly in both hands, and swallowed. "...he dead?"
"He ain't," Hiram called softly, "for now."
I know this was a slightly shorter chapter than usual, but it seemed the best place to end it and I think it can stand on it's own! Hope you enjoyed! More to come…