Captain's Log DCCCXCVII
We've been a-sea for five months and in that time I've come to some very unfortunate conclusions.
First, having no women, on a ship of forty men, on a trip that's likely to take a half a year, is a bloody terrible idea.
Second, India is a lot bloody further away from England than I thought it was. I sincerely hope the first mate hasn't pulled a Columbus and sent us careening off to America.
Third, remember that first mate I just mentioned? Well, I sort of really want to play the disappearing cane trick with him, if you know what I mean. And yes, this is a bloody horrible problem.
The S.S. Gunhammer was a mess. Unswabbed decks gleamed, slick with a cover of an unidentified sludge. Rope for the netting lay in tangled heaps near the sloping sides of the ship and the rip in the main sail had yet to be repaired. Captain Blaise Stryker curled his jeweled fingers on the helm and frowned deeply. It had been a while since he'd had a public whipping, but perhaps it was time to bring them back. Clearly his crew had forgotten who their captain was.
"Stryker, may I have a word?"
Stryker cut his eyes away from the displeasing scene below and into the face of the little man who had approached.
Kruppe van Dorn, Cooper to the ship and unofficial official emissary to the crew. He was an artifact of creation not easily understood, Kruppe was. Squat in a manner that implied some God, weary of his existence, had tried to squash him and yet stout in another manner that suggested that that God had failed. As everyone else who had tried to kill Kruppe had failed. He was a wily one and a clever one and would have been a considerably likeable one if he weren't also such an obnoxious one.
"That's Captain Stryker to you, Kruppe."
"Of course. Forgive my indiscretion. Captain Stryker, may I have a word?"
"Keep it short. I am in no mood for speeches today."
"Fair enough," Kruppe acquiesced. He slipped his fingers into a knot in front of him and pulled himself to a fuller height. "It's the men, Captain."
"The men are unhappy."
"The men are always unhappy. They're pirates. Whoever heard of a happy pirate?"
"Be that as it may, Captain, this time they are especially unhappy."
Kruppe paused. His youth trawling the ghettos of London town had given him a unique sixth sense about danger. In fact, half the legend of the S.S Gunhammer rested in Kruppe's ability to keep it out of the way of the sea's wrath. Right now, Kruppe's danger sense was telling him he must choose his words carefully. The Captain was not a man to be trifled, rifled, or done anything with that displeased him while his voice held that sinister edge and his hands rested so readily on his cutlass.
"The men say…that is they feel that you might have made a mistake in choosing your first mate," Kruppe finally said.
What the men had actually said was that the Captain's knickers were twisted so far up his arse he couldn't see what a stupid mistake he'd just made. But Kruppe kept that to himself.
Stryker's dark eyes narrowed dangerously. "Do they now?"
"Well some of the old timers are a little put out that you passed them over for this welp – their words not mine – who has barely seen his first voyage. So if you could just choose a more appropriate, ah, man for the job, the natural order can be restored and everyone can go back to normal like."
"I am not changing my first mate," Stryker clipped, frostily. "He was chosen because he is a brilliant navigator, a fine swordsman, cleverer than that crew even when they aren't half drunk and…"
"He looks good in breeches? " Kruppe interrupted.
There was a tense silence and then Stryker looked down at the deck and made a laugh that was not a laugh at all; an inverted chuckle forged by the hand of malice.
"I'm sorry?" he asked. He anti-chuckled again.
"Captain," Kruppe said spreading his hands. "I've been with you a long time. Your special inclinations as they were do not bother me, but the rest of the crew will not be so–"
He never got to finish his sentence. In a parrot's wink, the hand Kruppe had worried about and the cutlass he was even more worried sidled into fatal union. Glimmering blade flashed out of its sheath only to find a new fleshy home beneath Kruppe's triple chin. Stryker followed its path, leaning forward into Kruppe's face, his heavy eyeliner making him look very dark and dangerous indeed. There was no pretend laughter, now.
"You may have been with me for a very long time, Kruppe," Stryker hissed, "but this has only given you the delusion that you have special amnesty." He pressed the blade deeper into Kruppe's thick neck. "Presume my intentions again and I swear by the Goddess Sea I will gut your belly like a fish and feed you your own entrails."
Kruppe nodded understanding and Stryker withdrew. "Tell the men that I am the Captain and my decisions are final. If they do not like it then they can bloody well get off my ship."
"And they should also stop gossiping like little girls and actually do their jobs. If its not spotless out there by nightfall, the lot of them will spend tomorrow swimming behind the ship instead of in it. Do I make myself clear?"
"Good. You're dismissed."
After Kruppe left, Stryker sheathed his blade and settled his hands back on the ship's helm, more displeased than before. Not even the touch of the sea's briny air could make him feel calmer. His eyes swept out above the grumbling crew to the darkening horizon. The clouds had closed rank about each other, reducing the sunshine to a few crepuscular rays. It was mid-day, but it already looked like twilight. A storm was coming – Stryker could feel it. The trouble was…from where?
"You know, you don't have to defend me."
Stryker started at the new voice, whirling around to pinpoint its location. It was coming from what the Captain had originally mistaken for a pile of misplaced netting and sail, but could now clearly see was a body.
First Mate Aidan Larkin, a man the Gods of the Sea had fashioned to be his special distraction. He even looked like the sea with his dark hair curled like spiraling waves on a summer day, blue-grey eyes like whirlpools of a spinning typhoon and body whose power was belied by its unusually calm surface.
It took everything the captain had to not allow his gaze to look beneath the waters.
"It has nothing to do with you. I am the Captain, I cannot allow insubordination."
"Sometimes insubordination isn't so bad."
"Well there's insubordination and then there is insubordination."
"That's just the same word with different stresses."
"I'll let you figure it out."
Aidan closed his eyes and lay back against the makeshift bed, a half smile on his face. Stryker didn't wait around to figure out whether or not it was a knowing smile or not.
Captains log CMIX
The crew has not stirred since they sent Kruppe to speak with me, but I believe it is only because they are planning something worse. I don't know when it is I lost their respect, but I really don't care. If their loyalty is so easily swayed then they are worthless. I can easily get a new crew at our next port of call.
In other news, I've lost all ability to think in a straight manner around my first mate. And by that I mean I cannot think clearly, though I suppose it can be taken to mean that I am thinking homosexually. The man is a constant drain on what tattered remnants there are of my will power. Lounging around where I can always find him. Treating his shirt like an optional garment. Asking me questions with no answers.
I have been careful, of course. Kruppe was right about one thing – if the men catch wind of any of this a knife in my back will be the least of my worries. But somehow, with this person, I feel careful isn't enough.
Something was happening the lower decks. The normally unmotivated crew had assembled near the plank and, from the sound of their voices, Stryker guessed that their rum was pouring freely.
"What are they doing?" he demanded of Kruppe, who was on the ground resealing a leaky barrel he'd found that morning.
"Just having a bit of fun," Kruppe answered vaguely. "Breaking in one of the new recruits."
"We haven't got any new recruits."
"Ah. Then they're just breaking something."
Stryker nodded. It was fairly normal practice for the crew. It was how they bonded. He often ignored the ensuing tomfoolery because a united crew was a strong crew and a strong crew didn't get his ship sunk.
Grabbing his telescope from his pocket, Stryker focused it on the erstwhile figure weaving on the plank. He had a blindfold over his eyes and thick rope tying together arms that had been pulled behind his back. The game was 'The Long Walk' and the task to get to the end of the plank without falling into the water and drowning ¬–a sort of Russian roulette for the sea-faring man. The walker bet on his life and the other men bet…well…otherwise.
At the moment, the men were losing their bets and they were none too happy about it. With each solid contact the walker's foot made with the platform, their din grew louder until it was a deafening roar, robust as a cheer, but chilled sepulchral with its call for quietus.
Stryker's breath jammed in his throat. He didn't know for certain who the walker was ¬– his back was to him – and yet, somehow, he just…knew. Tension congealed his muscles to immovable solids, all except for his heart which was acting like it was him down there walking for his life. Or to his death, depending on who you were cheering for.
Suddenly, a thick gust of wind caught the walker under his arms. Spiraling him around like so many loose leaves of garbage it dragged him to the edge of the plank and then unceremoniously hurtled him over the edge. Just before he disappeared, the man's face turned up to look directly at Stryker and mouthed something that Stryker could clearly make out with his telescope.
"Captain?" Kruppe asked, alarmed as Stryker threw off his hat and began shouldering off his heavy jacket "Captain what are you doing?" He grabbed onto the younger man's arm, "Captain I implore you, this is a trick! Let someone else get him! You will lose everything!"
"I gave my word to protect this crew!" Stryker shot back, undoing his weapon's belt and letting it fall to the ground. Then he reached down to yank off his boots. "I am not letting anyone die on my watch!"
"You wouldn't do this if it were me!"
"Jump off the side of the ship and we'll find out!" Rid of all heavy attachments, Stryker ripped his hand out of Kruppe's grip and ran for the stairs.
"You may have the blood of a pirate Stryker, but you've the soul of a nobleman! One day it is going to get you killed!" Kruppe shouted, but Stryker was already gone and his words fell to the ground unheeded.
Stryker and Aidan broke the water surface, sending an explosive geyser up about them. For a few precious minutes all that could be heard were the sounds of water being tread and Aidan breathing hard.
"You've made a terrible mistake," he wheezed, finally finding a break between jagged inhale and exhale to make words.
"I'm not the one who tried to go swimming like a stone," Stryker snapped, but he was not angry. No, anger didn't even begin to describe what he was feeling at that moment. Gingerly he removed the blindfold from Aidan's stormy eyes and undid the rope around his wrists so he could tread by himself. Aidan was still woozy from the fall however, so Stryker ended having to support him under his arms.
"I told you not to save me."
"You know when."
"Oh that. I took that as a strongly worded suggestion,"
"Which you ignored?"
"I hold my own counsel."
"You should let other people hold your counsel."
"Let another man hold your counsel and I promise you will never hold your own counsel again."
"Why do you never make any sense?"
"I'm making perfect sense."
Aidan grinned. Stryker scowled. "Shut up and concentrate on breathing."
Balancing Aidan lengthwise against his hip, Stryker swam for the ship. They'd appeared a little further away from it than he had intended. As soon as they hit the side, a long rope came down from above. Stryker grabbed hold of it and looked back at Aidan.
"Are you fit to climb?"
"I think so."
"Good," Stryker handed the rope over. "Then you go first."
"Thank you by the way."
"This is no time for gratitude."
Aidan looked up at where the crew waited just out of sight. "Maybe, but I get the feeling there will not be another." And then he climbed. Stryker followed soon after.
The minute Stryker reached the top, two burly crewmembers grabbed him under the arms and dragged him to the side. The taller of the two punched him in the stomach, doubling him over in pain.
"Stand up, Captain," a deep voice commanded. It belonged to the Bo' sun of the ship, Isaac Humphries. The man was good at his job but had the personality of a penned up bull. He did subtly about just as well.
"I would," Stryker spat, "but your men's welcome was a little overzealous."
"Overzealous?" Humphries snorted. "You think you're better than the rest of us, don't you? Using your newfangled words."
"It is a word in English, a language we both should speak," Stryker retorted mildly. "How is it my fault that you do not understand it?"
"Who says I do not understand?" Humphrey glared. Gesturing at the two men strong arming Stryker, he said "Stand our Captain and make sure you do it overzealous like."
They practically broke Stryker's back forcing him upright, but he didn't let any of it show on his face. Instead he faced down the bo'sun with a resoluteness the crew could not understand. Despite having no weapons and being down to only his breeches and his shirt, he did not command a whit less of attention than he usually did. Several of the men, seemed to rethink this, whatever it was they had decided to do.
"Much better. Now we can talk man to man."
"So tell me, what is it that you need to get off your chest?" Stryker bit out, pleasantly.
Humphries tugged his breeches higher and leaned back with his arms spread to encompass the crew. "We are unhappy with your leadership."
"You don't have to be happy with it. I'm your captain, this is my ship, and you all must obey my rules."
"Well that's the thing, we don't feel like you're good enough to be captain, so we're staging a mutiny."
Stryker docked his eyebrow to half-mast like a flag at a general's funeral. "And who will be your captain then?"
The Bo' sun puffed up, smiling beatifically. "Me, of course. The crew voted."
"You? You're so stupid you couldn't lead a ship if it was in a tub of water."
Humphries went red in the face with anger. Charging at Stryker like the enraged bull he looked like, he spat in the other man's face. "Better than some Nancy-boy what's got his dory all knotted up over a half-whit child!"
Stryker returned his bad breath with a course smirk. "You're just mad I did not pick you."
He was expecting the punch that caught him in the stomach a few seconds later, but it didn't make it hurt any less. Nor the several others that came after it. By the time the Bo' sun had gotten his aggression out, Stryker was barely keeping himself together. Collapsed forward, the only thing holding him up were the arms of the two men still holding him up. His head lolled freely and blood trickled out the side of his mouth.
His last thought was of what would now happen to his first mate without him there to protect him.
Captains Log MXXXIII
I haven't actually got a log so I am writing this entry in my head. Hopefully, when I am somewhere else I will be able to put it down so posterity shall now what bloody arses my crew is.
It has been days since my crew threw me into the Brigg, a place so foul I can now understand why most of our prisoners cry out for death a day or so after being thrown in here. I haven't sought out death yet, but perhaps that is more because I refuse to talk to those treacherous, greasy haired, bilge rats rather than any resolve on my part.
I expect my first mate must be dead now. As I expect I soon shall be too. Maybe we will meet again in Davy Jones Locker.
Stryker was awoken by a bucket of icy salt water being thrown into his face. He blinked bleary eyes at the thrower and slowly the blurry figure focused into a very recognizable face.
Aidan smiled lazily, "More or less."
"How is that possible? I was sure the crew would kill you the minute I was out of there."
Aidan squatted down. "Well, they were about to," he said, "but I sort of inherited another knight protector after you left."
It was only then that Stryker noticed that another had come along. Kruppe stood just beyond the doors to the cell holding the keys in his hands. Somehow this was even more surprising to him than Aidan's appearance.
"Kruppe told the crew that none of them could actually navigate a ship. If they killed me then they were all dead."
"They are dead. Humphries is an idiot."
"Well he is, but it turns out they aren't any safer with me. I navigated them into siren waters."
Stryker's mouth fell open. "And you let him do this?" he demanded up over Aidan's head at Kruppe.
"Sirens were the lesser of two dangers," Kruppe shrugged. "Plus, I only sail under one captain."
"As do I," Aidan added.
There was no mistaking it this time. The grin the man was wearing was definitely knowing, though the details of that knowing were none too specific. Stryker felt a blossoming in his cheeks he'd not felt since he was a teenager. Luckily he was so covered in dirt no one could see it. Or so he hoped.
He cleared his throat self-consciously and broke gaze with Aidan. "Why are the two of you here?"
"Well," Aidan said. "I was going to let the sirens have the whole crew, but unfortunately you cannot run a ship with only three men. So we just let them take Humphries. Then they got angry that they weren't getting more of a feast so…they are sort of ripping the ship to shreds."
"It is true, Captain." Kruppe muttered, "They are fearsome creatures. You are protected down here from their caterwauling, but their voices alone could drive a man mad."
"What are you waiting for?" Stryker blustered. "Get me out of here so I can go and save my ship!"
The ropes binding Stryker's hands were cut and Aidan helped him to his feet. Kruppe stepped in and handed him his weapons belt. The cutlass had been recently sharpened and glimmered as Stryker swung it about in the low light. It had been a while since he'd moved so freely, so his muscles ached a little, but it was good to be standing again. He rolled his shoulders backwards and cracked his neck.
"Alright, let us go!"
"In a minute," Aidan said, pressing a palm to Stryker's chest. "I was kind of enjoying you being all tied up."
Stryker took a hesitant step backwards. "I'm not tied up, now."
"You're post-being tied up and that's almost as good. Usually, you're too busy running around doing captainy things. It's exhausting just watching you. But now..." He reached a hand and grabbed the captain's stubbly chin. "...now you won't run anywhere."
"Is there some reason I should?"
"There is always a reason to run."
And then Aidan leaned in and kissed him. It was barely a swipe of a kiss and it tasted like salt, but of all the kisses Stryker had had, and there were a fair few since Aidan was not really his first mate, it was the best. He felt it curling up from his toes, through to his emaciating stomach to finally his own lips. He kissed him back.
"Uh, men, the crew is dying a lot upstairs. We should really go and help them," Kruppe interrupted.
Aidan pulled back. "Now we can go."
Captains Log MLII
The ship has returned to my control and the few men who survived the attack of the sirens are no longer in any doubt about my capabilities. I feel a fair few of them are worried I will change my mind and feed them to the sharks.
Kruppe, has turned out to be an interesting character. He came up to me the other day and informed me that the reason he had ended up helping us in the end was because he'd finally realized why I had made Aidan my first mate. He said it was because the boy had no true ambitions of his own, his spirit was incorruptible and that kind of loyalty was very hard to come by. There was virtue in total laziness.
Which is true. But I am not going to lie. Those breeches probably had a lot to do with it, too.
Tomorrow we reach India and to that I say: it's about bloody time!
Aidan and Stryker lay in bed that night, next to each other but not in each other's arms because they were not the touchy feely type outside of things that genuinely required touching and feeling.
"You know, something that's always made me wonder?" Stryker asked, looking over at Aidan who was sprawled face first on the bed.
"Mmm?" the nearly comatose man mumbled.
"Well, how did you escape the sirens? I know Kruppe is a eunuch. His only earthly desire is food, so that makes sense. You however are not a eunuch. Didn't they call out to you?"
"They did," Aidan answered sleepily. "But they wanted me to get into the water."
"That's way too much work for a shag."
"And commandeering a ship to sail it into siren's waters, breaking the captain out of the Brigg and leading the charge against the agents of Poseidon isn't?"
"It would have been," Aidan mused, pushing himself up onto his elbows, "if a shag was the only reason I was doing it."
Aidan laughed. "You figure it out."
Taking the maps that Stryker had been reading out of his hands, Aidan blew out the lantern and they settled to such things that shivered their timbers and curdled their toes.
a/n: this offering comes from senatorblitz half of cybersheep! never fear next soma chapter is almost done! just putting finishing touches XD