"Cap'n Will! Come quick!" A sailor wearing a tattered white shirt came for Will later that night, just a he was about to knock on Kathryne's door. The ship rose on a sudden swell as he took his first step, causing him to rock slightly.
"What is it?" He demanded, a little cross that he had been interrupted.
"Sails on the horizon, lots of 'em." The man's face was grim as he delivered the news. The only ships to travel in large fleets lately were pirates and British warships- and by far most often the former.
Will snatched the brass telescope from the man's hands, surveying the sea with a scowl that only deepened when he saw at least seven tiny white sails.
"Find me Tory and Franklin," Will ordered. "Now!" He barked when the man hesitated.
A few minutes later, Tory and a sleepy Franklin appeared. The burly second mate had night duty, so he slept while he could during the day. Will handed Tory the telescope without a word, and he in turn passed it to Franklin after spotting the sails southeast of them. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Franklin exploded when he saw them.
"Why them's blasted pirates!"
"Can you tell for sure?" Will questioned, not having been able to tell for sure if there had been black on the sails at all.
"The bloody Jolly Roger's flyin' sure as I'm standin' here, Cap'n," Franklin said, furious.
The sea was beginning to get rougher, rising and falling dangerously high and low. The passengers had for the most part stayed in their cabins all day because of the brewing storm- even Kathryne, much to Will's dismay.
"Shall we head north then?" Will inquired, more of Tory than of Franklin.
"That's tempting a storm, but I'd rather that than our other choice, sir," the first mate said grimly. "At least this way we'll be alive."
"A nor'easter's been a-brewin' all day, Cap'n, and she ain't gonna be nothin' to mess with," Franklin scowled. He seemed to favor the thought of fighting over running from the pirates, however outnumbered they would be.
"Set course north-northeast with full sail," Will told Tory, shooting a pointed glance at Franklin to keep him from further comment. He turned and hurried back to his cabin, unwillingly giving up his chance at seeing Kathryne at all until the next day.
Kathryne was huddled on the floor between the wall and her bed, clutching the woolen blankets tightly to her chin. The storm had been rolling for around a half an hour now, and each new bolt of lightning sent a shot of terror through her. She could hear the rain pounding on deck as well as orders being barked out, and every once in a while she thought she caught Will's voice over the clamor.
Just as she was beginning to relax, another flash of lightning was followed closely by the awful sound of splitting wood.
"The forward mast!" someone cried.
Outside, chaos reigned as men scurried about trimming sails and bailing water. They all had ropes tied around their waists and attached to sections of railing or the masts.
With the last bolt of lightning followed by Franklin's yell, the top fourth of the front mast splintered, sending chunks of wood in every direction. One struck Will in the shoulder where he stood at the wheel with Tory, both lashed to it tightly. Barely flinching, he yelled, "left!" and both men pulled on the wheel with all the strength they could muster to get the ship to a position where it could take the towering wave more gently. Instead of the wall of water that would have crashed over the deck if it wasn't for their efforts, only a foot or so came, washing overboard pieces of torn canvas and other debris.
Lighting flashed again, and this time hit part of the ship's railing. Men cried out as they were hit with the pieces, but one yell rose above them all.
Untying himself from the wheel, Will barked at the nearest sailor to help Tory and sprinted toward the buoys on the outer wall of his cabin. He grabbed one and ran to the railing where Franklin and some others were throwing a rope blindly into the sea.
"Tie yerself on, Cap'n," Franklin said, tossing Will a part of the rope the four men were linked onto for safety. The young captain ignored it, squinting through the waves desperately. A splotch of white caught his eye and he threw the buoy, only to realize it was a piece of canvas.
He swore and hauled it in again, but Franklin grabbed it as soon as he could. "I see 'im!" He cried, throwing the buoy back out with all of his massive strength. Following it with is eyes, Will saw something red floating about five yards in the opposite direction of the canvas. Franklin's throw miraculously landed right next to the man and everyone yelled out for him to grab it. The man didn't move.
Franklin cursed furiously. "We gotta lower a lifeboat, Cap'n! He's outta it!"
Will hesitated. The storm was still raging and he could vaguely hear Tory's shouts at the wheel. To send a lifeboat into this sea would be suicide! "No, Franklin. The sea's too rough. The boat wouldn't make it."
Interrupting Franklin's newest string of furious cursing, he called, "Tory! See if you can get us twenty feet left!"
Franklin stopped swearing when he realized what Will was going to do. He gaped, open-mouthed along with the rest of the men as Will removed his shoes and grabbed another long rope. Suddenly the second mate snapped into action, shoving the shards of wood away from the ominous hole in the railing and lining up himself and the three other men to hold onto the end of the rope.
As the ship neared the buoy under Tory's careful steering, Will called for him to stop. Then, taking a deep breath, the captain plunged into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
On board, the men gripped the rope tightly, faces drawn, while Will swam for his life as well as that of the sailor. He was doing what he wouldn't allow other men to do in the small but relative safety of a longboat.
Another wave crashed over him as he caught sight of the buoy, following Franklin's shouted instructions. Thank goodness the man's voice matched his stature or Will would have been lost! He struggled to break the surface again and finally found the buoy. Grabbing it with a sigh of relief, he used it to push himself up and look for the sailor. He spotted him about two yards away from the boat, floating on his stomach like a dead man.
He inhaled water when the next wave assaulted him, coughing and sputtering while he tried to keep his nearly frozen limbs moving. The water was colder than anything he had known, seeping past his skin all the way to his bones.
What seemed like hours later, he felt his hand strike the man. Franklin was still yelling madly, his normally booming voice barely audible to Will's frozen ears over the roar of the massive waves. The salt taste was bitter in his mouth and he coughed with every breath, but he managed to force his arms to work as he tied the rope of the buoy around the man. He flipped him on his back and said a silent prayer of thanks that the sailor was still breathing, though just barely.
The men had tied Will's rope to the railing and were hauling Marx in first as he was the more desperate case. Will was trying to swim in himself, fighting the waves and pulling on the rope, doing anything he could with his last ounce of strength to get himself back to the ship, back to warmth, dry clothes, and Kathryne. . .