#4 – The Merchant and The Minstrel

The minstrel’s hands were dripping with blood. Some of the red was her own, but most came from the merchant’s thigh. Her fingers danced around the cloth, pulling it smooth as she wrapped the man’s gushing wound. The hook he had fallen upon had saved his life and dammed his left leg. The captain was strewn beside them on the lower deck. The minstrel had been shredding his shirt and pants to fasten a bandage. The dragonfly thieves had intended to dump his body overboard, however the corpse had landed neatly in a swinging basket. While the surviving pirates went about the decks, searching every cranny for loot, the fire feeder, relieved from his duties, helped her pull up the carcass. The merchant was so persistent with his wailing that the feeder had blunted his head against the wood, in an effort to force a more silent sleep. If the merchant had continued screaming, he would have been killed for annoyance sake. The minstrel was the only woman on board, and the merchant was too finely dressed to be confused with the crew, so exceptions were made regarding their treatment. The first mate and the men of higher duties were given a basket to share and a parachute inadequate for their weight. They were bound together, and the basket was slid off the third deck’s planks. The minstrel had seen the chute open but she doubted their survival. The rest of the laborers, the crankers, the cleaners, the patchers, the mesh-men and the fire feeder were given a chance to resume their chores, and for a while they did. The pirates had suffered in numbers from the boarding, and were in need of strong men. They once had numbered thirty-seven, but now they were only twenty-two souls, and twenty-eight flyers. During the boarding four of the flyers had fallen away from the minstrel’s own hands, but she had kept that to herself, and discreetly abandoned her weapon when it was evident that the battle was lost.
The captain’s original crew had stayed on for two days. They had conspired their own escape and subtlety drifted the ship down and steered it to pass over the wide Lavoy river. It was early evening when the crankers’ call came. On their cue, they dashed from their posts, climbed down dropped ropes and ladders, and dove into the slow, deep waters. With their collective weight free, the ship bounded up and away, freeing the escapee crew from pursuit. The next day, the merchant was awoken by a kick, and the fire feeder’s spade was passed into her possession. A burly man with thirteen belts holding in a ballooning gut, held the brig door open. In his other hand, a thick wooden cane supported a third of his girth. The merchant braced himself against the wall, climbing with his hands, trying to stand, but their guard held out an open hand, and shook his head with a suppressed smirk. When the minstrel stepped out into the sun on the deck she noticed that the guard had stayed. It was an easy conclusion to make, and against her better judgement, she tightened her grip on the spade and went back to the cell. The burly guard was standing over the merchant with his oaken cane raised. The crippled prisoner raised his hands to shield the blows, and was making such a squeal that the guard couldn’t hear her approach. The spade snugly slid amongst the folds of the guard’s neck. He dropped to his knees, his arms fell limp, and his fingers dangled loose upon the wood. He bellowed out a deafening moan as his eyes arched upwards. The man began to tetter forward, prompting the merchant to reach out with his good leg and prod against the bulging belly. The push was enough to send the man the other way, and the merchant hid his eyes as the torso rolled back. The spade was still embedded, stopping the bodily mass from its descent, propping it up.
The door to the aft brig opened and gasps mixed with laughter followed. One of the female raiders with a purple ribbon tying her hair, the same pirate who was second to board the ship, cursed the fat man’s name, and kicked out the spade. The body hit the wood with a plump thud, and began to leak blood through the gaps in the floorboards. She looked up to the prisoners with an admiring smile, then back to her fellow raiders. She murmured a joke about food portions and loot, and the other pirates left, laughing to their own. The minstrel stood between the bruised merchant and purple ribboned raider, while she wielded the guard’s cane in a threatening manner. The pirate shrugged, spat upon the fat man, and walked away, leaving the door open. When the minstrel cautiously emerged into the sun, the rest of the pirate crew ignored her. They were busy loading their scattered flyers with whatever goods they deemed of value. The larger men packed more food and silver, while the smaller girls were more inclined to storing fabrics and jewelery on theirs. It was a frenzy of selfish intentions. When the minstrel got up to the fifth deck, she saw the purple ribboned woman, tossing clumps of fuel into the furnace with her hands. The minstrel was sent a very warm smile, and reciprocated with an uneasy one. Other thieves would pass the furnace and add bits of worthless material, but the purple ribbon dedicated herself to the feeding. When the ship had peaked up into a windy stream, the flyers began to disembark. Thirteen flyers left the ship in a haphazard formation, and rode the current ahead. The remaining raiders tended to the ship. It was of a luxury size and would sell for a greater profit than all the loot and cargo it contained. Four of the pirates spread out amongst the propellers. One sat within reach of the rudder. One took to scouting on the top of the balloon frame. One went to the second deck’s kitchen, and the purple ribboned girl kept flicking fuel into the fire. The minstrel went down below to find the merchant, who had stripped the fat man of his belts and had applied them to his leg himself. He happily took the cane from the minstrel, and used it to hobble up the spiral stairs to the fifth deck. She had returned with the spade, and set to the task she was originally assigned. The merchant found himself interrogated by the purple ribboned girl, and tried to answer with charm. He told her of his skills and uses, trying to convey a reason for him to live. She listened to him without giving a hint to any conversion. When the questions were finished, the pirate went inside the captain’s vacant cabin, and left the two of them to tend the fire.
In the midst of the night, the minstrel was awoken. Not by a kick, but by a warm hand pressed against her cheek. She opened her eyes to see the purple ribboned pirate hovering over her and lightly pulling her back to the cabin. Inside, upon a chair, a small, twelve-string harp sat, waiting for her fingers. She went to it with delight. While she played, the pirate lay back upon the bare bed, which had been stripped of comforts, and pulled a dagger from her boot. The blade went under her own nails, and scraped across her skin, picked between her teeth, and scratched at the small of her back. It was cleaned after the grooming, and it finally ended its exposure out of her boot after cutting through a round fruit. The pirate ate and watched the minstrel, with a seductive smile creeping upon her chewing cheeks. When the minstrel rested between her sixth and seventh song, she was offered a slice of the fruit. When she reached for it, the pirate snagged her wrist, and pulled her onto the bed. She was fiercely strong for a woman, and held the minstrel about the waist with one hand as she placed the fruit upon her lip with the other. The minstrel could feel the confidence, and fearless aggression, from this woman. She was quicker, stronger, and held a stare which promised that she was craftier. The minstrel played into the scenario, and comforted the pirate. From what she could tell, the pirate was only interested in a body to warm the night. She had planned on staying alert, but instead found herself waking up to the sound of clumsy fingers plucking of the harp’s strings. The minstrel summoned the nerve to speak, and asked where they were going. The answer she got was a vague reference to a mountain camp, which served as a base for thousands of other rebels and exiles. It was a common trading destination, where loot and prisoners were bought and sold. She was told that servitude would be the fate of the merchant. His talent with numbers and coin would serve him well there, and she expected a good profit from him. When she asked if she too would end up in servitude, the purple ribboned pirate told her that she had no plans to sell her to anyone else. The insinuated notion of ownership left with her an queasy pull on her gut, and her mind worked to manifest alternative options.

 

Chapter 5

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