Thirteen Bones - Chapter 1

Girl overboard

 

The waves lashed against the girl as she clung to the side of the ship, gripping some wet rope with all her might. It was the only thing between her and the certain death that awaited her should she let go. Her long red hair hung in sodden tendrils around her face, and she was soaked to the bone. Silently she wished she had put on more than a singlet under her dark, hard leather corset that day. She might now have had something to shield her battered body against the rough weathered wood of the ship. Her light woollen trousers were now torn and stained black and red from the fight, though thankfully her heavy leather boots had somehow managed to keep her feet mostly dry. 

Warm blood trickled down the left-hand side of her face from a deep cut on her forehead and smeared against her skin. She wiped it away roughly as it ran down her left cheek, and she realised that she had lost her eye patch. Scowling to herself she cursed silently at its loss. Absently she adjusted her hair so that it covered the scar tissue that sat in place of where her left eye should have been. She then scrambled to get a better grip on the rope as a large wave washed over her, smashing her into the side of the ship yet again. Screwing her right eye shut she was momentarily dazed. She shook her head and fought to stay conscious. A task made somewhat easier by the constant spray of the water hitting her face as she held tight to the only thing keeping her alive right now. 

Opening her good eye briefly, she felt the salt water sting, but at least it was keeping her alert and thinking clearly. She couldn’t stay in the freezing water much longer. Her fingers were stiff from the cold, and she was slowly losing feeling in them. Her already pale skin was taking on a cool blue hue, and her body was struggling to keep her blood warm. But she knew that if she could just hold on for a little bit longer, and let the battle going on above her play out, then she might have a chance of surviving. 

While she waited it out, she mulled over what had happened to her in the last 18 months since she had left home. It was on the night of the Obliteration, as she called it. Nothing could have made her stay after that. After what she saw. She shuddered involuntarily at the memory. True she had never intended to join a pirate crew but then again at the time, and with her being a woman, there wasn’t much choice - it was either a life of servitude as a maid to some Lord, the workhouse (or worse), or take to the sea. It hadn’t been easy at first, and she had had to fight off more men than she would ever have bargained for, but eventually she had come to earn her place on the ship above her. It was also fortunate that her Captain, Bernard Mayhem, didn’t harbor any superstitious ideas about women being bad luck on board his ship. He had taken her on as part of his crew without a second thought, and made her feel as though she was part of his family of absconders.

Life on the Severed Seas was rough at the best of times, but lately it had been more cutthroat than ever, with a bounty being put on many a Pirate Captain’s head in an effort by the Aristocracy to thin out their number. The other Pirate Captains hadn’t figured it out yet of course, and were happy enough to turn on each other and do the King’s work in exchange for the gold. To them a bounty was a bounty and, as they often said, they owed no allegiance to anyone. 

Before the girl had found herself hanging from the side of her Captain’s besieged ship, they had been drinking a toast to the fact that her Captain now had the highest price on his head of any pirate that ever sailed. Everyone had been smiling and in a jolly mood before they got word from their lookout.  A black ship was approaching. By the colours, it was the Riffraff, Captain Thaddeus Blackwatch’s ship. Blackwatch prided himself on having one of the best-armed ships on the Severed Seas, with one of the hardest crews, and it was said that in order to secure a place on Blackwatch’s ship you had to have done something pretty black hearted. Though as usual the details on this were a bit ambiguous. Blackwatch was well aware of the huge price on Mayhem’s head and he had a mind to claim it, despite the fact that Mayhem would obviously prefer to keep his head on his shoulders. It was where he liked to keep his thoughts and make decisions. 

The Riffraff sailed on towards Mayhem, its battle colours flying high above it’s tattered, dirty canvas sails, but it was closing in on Mayhem at a speed that no wind powered boat could hope to achieve. A fact not lost on Captain Mayhem. 

‘He must have turbo thrusters on that thing!’ Mayhem screamed, ‘and he flies the flag of war - man the cannons men, prepare for boarding!’ 

The Captain’s rage was well-founded. Turbo charging your ship was frowned upon by most on the Severed Seas, but was accepted as long as it was utilized for escape from the hated Aristocrats. However using it against a fellow pirate on the open seas would mark you as the lowest of the low. 

Within a heartbeat Mayhem’s crew were caught in a blur of activity, preparing their ship for battle. They could not believe that even a marauder like Blackwatch would stoop to using the enhanced power of his ship against a fellow pirate. It ran contrary to the code they all lived by, handed down from the Thirteen Bones, and enforced with the cutlass and dagger. The code had been put in place to stop such unscrupulous men from taking advantage of certain available technologies to gain advantage over each other. It was in short considered cheating, even by pirate standards. 

Just as Mayhem’s crew had managed to get the canon doors open, and raise their own flag, the Riffraff was upon them, guns blazing. Blackwatch’s ship pulled alongside Mayhem, and his crew made quick work of boarding his ship. Landing on the deck with their swords drawn and flintlocks at the ready within moments all was lost within a haze of chaos and confusion, smoke and gunfire. Blackwatch’s men seemed to come aboard in an endless procession, and indeed Blackwatch had brought extra men with him. He had no illusions about the skill of his crew in comparison to Mayhem’s and he wanted to stack an uneven deck in his favour. Under such an overwhelming onslaught, it wasn’t long before Mayhem’s men began to fall, including the girl. Through the smoke, as he cut down Blackwatch’s men, Mayhem had somehow found her, lying on the deck clutching her head. Ordering her to stay out of sight until either he came to retrieve her or Blackwatch’s ship had left, he had picked her up, put the rope in her hands and tossed her over the side of the ship like a rag doll. She had flown through the air for a moment as if she weighed nothing, before gravity unceremoniously pulled her back down. There the water caught her and cruelly slammed her into the side of the ship. Blinking back tears from her good eye, she refused to cry. It was not the time to fall apart if you wanted to live. 

Now clinging on to the rope in the wet and cold, she could hear the distant roar of Mayhem and his men fighting, even as the water continued to smash her into the side of the ship again and again. 

Above her on the ship things were not going well for Mayhem and his men. Eventually and inevitably they were overpowered simply by the sheer numbers of Blackwatch’s crew. Falling to his knees on the deck with more wounds than he cared to count, Mayhem heard Blackwatch order his men to leave none alive, and watched as his protagonist strolled towards him with the air of someone to whom victory is a forgone conclusion. Exhausted and broken, Mayhem knew his time had come, and he almost welcomed it. With one slash of his cutlass, Blackwatch separated Mayhem’s head from his body. He now had all he needed to claim the bounty. Looking around at the destruction and litter of fallen bodies, Blackwatch signalled for his remaining men.

‘Loot the ship, then send her to the deep!’ he roared, dissolving into a hearty laugh that would have terrified a more sane group of men, ‘then return to the Riffraff and we depart as one. You have 10 minutes!’

As his men went to work once more, Blackwatch took a moment to smile at his triumph before he jumped up onto the boarding plank and stalked back across to his ship.

In the water time dragged on as the girl’s muscles groaned with the cold and the pain of holding on to the rough, water soaked rope. Looking up she could just see the sun high above the main mast. Nearly an hour must have passed since Blackwatch had attacked. Given how much time had elapsed, and as she had seen no faces peering over the side looking for her, she guessed that her Captain must be dead. She strained to hear what was going on above her, over the wash of the waves and the occasional plaint of a gull. She could hear a man shouting, and though she could make out nothing he said she could guess. The sounds of battle had been replaced by the scratchings and scrapings of Blackwatch and his men as, she surmised, they looted the ship. She also knew that their next move would be to sink Mayhem’s ship when they were done. Given the underhanded way in which Blackwatch had conducted his business with them today, he would not want to leave behind any evidence of his treachery. It was bad for the reputation. He couldn’t be too much longer though, and it was then that she would have to make her move.

As she waited in the shadow of the ship, a small dull explosion sounded somewhere off to her right, on the other side of the ship, and immediately it’s bearing shifted slightly as the vessel began to take on water. She knew she wouldn’t have too long to pull herself up on board, and hoped that Blackwatch hadn’t destroyed all the lifeboats. Patiently she waited as she felt the vessel pull itself over further. At least that will make it easier for me to pull myself back up onto the ship, she thought. She could only assume that Blackwatch was now making his getaway and wouldn’t be sticking around to take in the last of the sunset and watch the ship go down.

Pulling with all her remaining strength the girl dragged herself inch by inch up the side of the ship, her frozen hands threatening to let go at any second. Passing the gunport she eventually reached the railing and pulled herself over it. Falling to the main deck she instantly slide across the rough wood towards the listing side of the ship. Thinking fast she swung her feet round in front of her and managed to catch herself up against the main mast. The ship had begun to list quite steeply and she was running out of time. Black smoke plumbed around her as fire began to spread from the Captain’s quarters to the rest of the ship. 

Surveying the mass of dead and bloody men that lay around her on deck, she could see no one moving – no one still alive. Then looking towards the bow she saw her Captain’s headless body, partially hidden behind the raised hatch of the ship’s hold. Turning away, she drew in a sharp breath to keep from crying out in despair, and with one hand on the deck she pushed herself up and struggled to her feet. She had to find a way off the doomed ship. 

Stumbling through the smoking madness around her, she kept her focus on looking to see if any of the lifeboats had survived. She moved methodically from one small boat to the next, but they all seemed to be damaged in some way. She was beginning to lose hope. The nasty wound on her forehead continued to bleed, and her head throbbed with the dull pain of it, causing her to feel nauseous and dizzy. Stooping down quickly, she grabbed a scarf from one of the dead men, and tied it tightly around her head to cover the wound, positioning it to conceal the deformed space where her left eye should have been. It was such a small thing really, but from that moment she began to feel more in control. There was no point in panicking now. As the ship continued on to it’s watery grave, she weighed up her options. If she could find something to float on, a barrel or a piece of wood from the ship, that might keep her alive for a while, but she knew she really needed something that would keep her out of the water and dry otherwise the cold salty deep would kill her. 

Looking down again she grabbed a cutlass lying on the deck at her feet and wiped it on a dead man’s shirt. Then spying something else she could use she put in some effort to wrestle a long, black leather jacket from another of the dead crew. This would do well to keep her warm. As the ship creaked threateningly and lurched over still further she made the choice to jump for it. She couldn’t go down with the ship, and would have to make sure she was a safe distance before it finally went to it’s final destination otherwise it would suck her down with it. 

Running to the portside, which was now listing at almost 40 degrees to the water she found she now had a very good platform from which to dive into the sea and get a head start. She even thought she might be able to swim away from the ship, wait for it to sink and then return to see what of use floated back up to the surface. 

Standing on the side of the ship she was about to jump, when in the afternoon light she saw it. One lone lifeboat floating out on the sea not to far from the ship, drifting lazily on it’s own. 

‘Avast!’ she cried to the wind without thinking, for if there was anyone aboard the small boat, there were equal chances that they were foe as well as friend, but no reply came. She had to take the chance it was empty or perhaps one of her crew were on board. In a moment of quick forethought, she returned to the damaged lifeboats to grab an oar. She didn’t know if there would be one on the little boat on the sea, and oars were damned useful things to have in a small boat. 

Leaping over the dead, she sprinted back to the side of the ship, and climbed up onto the railing. She balanced there for a moment and, before she lost her nerve, she threw the oar and the jacket into the water before following the items over the side herself. She might be on her own, but she wasn’t dead yet!  

The freezing water embraced her like an old friend, momentarily taking her breath away. If she had thought it was cold before it was like ice now! Reaching for the oar, she swam over to the little boat and threw it inside. Then exhausted and in pain, she pulled herself into the tiny vessel after it, but she wasn’t out of trouble yet. She still had to clear a safe distance between her and the sinking ship. Taking stock of what was in the boat she found another oar, a bottle of rum, the canvas lifeboat cover, a small anchor, an old shirt and some rope. Setting the two oars into the loops on either side of the boat she began to row, with each stroke causing a worsening spasm of pain to shoot up her left arm. There was no time to check the injury now though, and she had to focus on getting as far away as she could from the flaming wreck that was Mayhem’s ship before it went down. 

Eventually she had to stop rowing as her arm finally gave out, but she figured that she was a safe distance from the sinking ship. Looking down she could see her arm had a fairly decent gash in it, which had been aggravated by her mad rowing. Something would have to be done about that. Reaching down she grabbed the man’s shirt from the bottom of the boat and ripped one of the sleeves free, wrapping it round her wounded arm and tying it tightly. This would at least stem the blood flow and keep it clean until she could get it seen to. Grabbing the canvas boat cover she wrapped it round her thin frame to shield her from the wind, which had picked up and flung its weight around disapprovingly. She then spread the leather jacket out over the top, and though it was damp, it still provided another layer of warmth. Reaching for the rum she took a swig from the bottle, and threw the small anchor over the side. She didn’t want to find herself drifting aimlessly on the ocean and she could feel herself slowly loosing consciousness. She didn’t know how long she would be out for, but she imagined it might be at least a few hours.

When the girl woke again, she didn’t know how much time had passed, but it was dark. She knew immediately she was no longer on the lifeboat. Sitting up and looking around she found herself in what she guessed to be the guest quarters of a large ship. The bed she was in was warm, soft and clean, and red velvet curtains billowed lazily round the cabin’s porthole. Behind her mint striped wallpaper covered one wall, while two small lamps cast a yellow glow to her left and right. Deep purple carpet covered the floor, a strange luxury on a ship, further confusing the girl as to who could possibly have come to her rescue.

Throwing the covers back, she saw that she was now dressed in a clean nightshirt that hung down to her ankles. It was obviously someone else’s shirt, someone who was much bigger than herself. To her left she could see her old leather corset hanging over the back of an ornately carved wooden chair along with some fresh, dark woolen trousers and a smaller long sleeve shirt. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and slowly got to her feet. Finding this felt good, she tried walking. She was a bit shaky. Maybe save that for later. She sat back down on the bed. Looking down at her arm she could see it had been dressed properly, and she could feel stitches under the bandage. Instinctively her hand wandered up to her face, where she could feel the hollow of her missing eye. Her hair was tied back from her face and swept back from her forehead, which was bandaged also. Pressing against the bandage on her head, she winced in pain, but at least she was still alive. 

She turned her attention to the little beside table, and saw that it was 2 o’clock in the morning by the timepiece that sat there. Then she noticed the bottle of rum that had been left on the table for her. It was the bottle from the lifeboat. The girl poured herself a glass and downed it in one shot. The fire from the alcohol warmed her throat and as she breathed out she felt the heat spread out to her bones. Reaching over to the chair she grabbed the trousers and pulled them on roughly. Next she pulled on the shirt, and found it to be surprisingly soft against her skin. Finally she pulled on her boots, which were thankfully dry and sitting neatly side-by-side under the little table. Pouring herself another shot of rum for good measure, she looked towards the door and traced a finger over the silver Octopus that hung at her throat. There was nothing for it but to sit and wait for whomever it was that had picked her up to come find her awake. She needed answers, but she wasn’t fool enough to go looking for them yet. 

Before too long the door opened, and a man appeared in the frame. He wore the tricorne hat of a Captain, and had the bearing of a man who had seen too much in his time. On seeing his patient was awake, a great smile spread across his face, and he stepped forward into the light.

‘You’re awake! Grand, grand my girl! We were a bit worried about you for a while there. Been checking in on you every hour. I’m not sure what you think you were doing out there lassy. A shore boat is no place to sleep after going for a swim,’ he paused for breath, ‘I am Jessup Miserablesod, Captain of this fine ship, and who might you be?’

‘I might be indebted to you for my rescue, and for the good work you have done to dress my wounds,’ smiled the girl, ‘my Captain’s ship was attacked by Blackwatch for he wished to claim the bounty on his head… I am sad to say I am the only survivor.’

‘Ahhh, I am sorry to hear that, but do I take it then that you are a lass of the sea?’

The girl nodded yes in response.

‘Well in that case you may call me Captain, but by what name shall I refer to you?’

‘You may call me… Blimey,’ said the girl, who had heard the name somewhere before, and thought it was as good a name as any to start over with.  Besides, she wanted to keep her past behind her. 

‘Well then, Miss … Blimey, as a fellow pirate I welcome you to my ship!’ extolled the Captain, smiling widely and sweeping his arm across his chest and then out in a wild gesture, ‘perhaps I can even convince you to join my crew, if you have no immediate plans that is?’ 

Blimey smiled up at this strange man who had saved her life and now offered her a place to live and work. 

‘No plans that can’t wait a few years,’ she said simply.