(Please note that this is from Tepic’s perspective, and real events may have been completely different….)
Tepic sat at ease in the cell, back against the cool wood of the airship hull, the wall in front of him made of thick iron bars with a door of bars in the centre. As cells go, it wasn’t the worst he had been in, though it was by no means the best. He idly wondered about writing a book, a guide to the best jails and prisons in the Steamlands, it would be a certain best seller, he was sure.
So far, since his capture by the pirates, he had been treated quite well. It had been a bit of a surprise to be caught by Cyan, who for some reason had joined them, and the ones who brought him to the cell had been quite rough removing his backpack and none too gentle shoving him through the door, but he hadn’t really been searched or questioned yet. It was almost insulting.
Just then, Cyan came into the room to the front of the cell and rather tentatively greeted his friend.
“Ummm… Hi Tepic”
“so Cyan,” Tepic started, “it were decent of yer ter not let em throw me off the ship… but….”
“I would never throw a friend off the ship!” the young lad cried hotly, “but…”
“well yep, neither would i… least not without a parachute….”
“This is probably the safest place for you on the ship right now.”
This was something Tepic agreed with, it was odd, but in difficulties, being safely locked up was often the best place to be. It was time to talk about the kracken in the parlour.
“how come yer turned coat? this lot may be them as did fer poor dibbler!” Tepic asked, possibly with a bit more venom than he had wanted.
The young leopard flushed as he replied “I… It’s not like that… mainly it’s… Basically I figured it was this or floating on a dingy in the middle of the ocean.”
“an Rat an Leon’s other crew, is that where they is?” the question was barbed, suggesting they had been abandoned while Cyan saved himself.
“They were taken to the Rif.” the boy replied defensively.
“uh oh… not that Hag lass again?” Tepic muttered, she was one hombre he did not want to meet again.
“They are fine as far as I know but they were gone when I woke up.”
Tepic decide it was best to change tack slightly and said “there’s easier ways ter join a pirate crew, yer know…. several older urchins join em when they’s ready ter leave the City…”
“I really didn’t plan to join pirates.” Cyan replied, “I mean really if I wanted pirate like adventures I would have joined with my aunt”
“Leon were in the hospital when i left…”
“I hope he’s okay… All I remember was getting knocked out and waking up on this ship… in that brig in fact”
“dunno, he were in a bad state when they brought him in…” Tepic began, then paused as one of the pirates entered.
The man was dressed in such a way that he was obviously a pirate, and had a handsome charm to him that would have brought the word ‘swashbuckling’ to mind. Despite this, Tepic noticed Cyan had stepped back and was glowering at the man’s back. It was time to see how things stood.
Leaning on the bars, Tepic folded his arms an with a cheeky grin said “watcha mate, who’s you?”
To his surprise, the man was quite calm and relaxed as he introduced himself as ‘Ambul’, and when he goaded him, telling the man he was obviously not the Captain as they always had impressive names and titles, all he got was agreement and then praise for finding them and sneaking on board. Since then chap was quite forthcoming, Tepic decided it was time to find out if it was this gang who had killed Dibbler. After a little confusion, when Ambul thought they were referring to Leon, he eventually told Tepic that the Captain knew more about that. The lack of a straight answer annoyed the lad, but there was little he could do about it.
“so yer ain’t the captain, so who is yer, he chief torcher?”
“Quartermaster” Ambal said, with a hint of annoyance, which Tepic tried to capitalise on.
“oh……. a clerk.”
“I’m here to tell ya to think about an offer the Captain’s going to present.” the pirate stated, taking control of the conversation, “He wants you to join the crew, or two things will happen.”
Behind the man Cyan was nodding his head, encouraging his friend to take the offer.
“an what would them be then?” Tepic asked.
“One, you’ll be left in a dinghy in the middle of the ocean to make your way home or be lost at sea.” the reply came, “And if not, shipped to the Rif and set to work there.”
“darn… so yer’s slavers then?” the deliberate insult slipped from the boy’s tongue before he could stop it.
“Nah. We’re free men who believe in freedom.” Ambal said, seeming to take the accusation well for a pirate, “But hey, gotta do something with prisoners to get them out of the way!”
“i dunno, Cyan,” Tepic asked, looking at the cabin boy, “what’d yer Aunty think of sellin folks ter the Riff?”
It looked as if the man’s patience was nearing it’s end, for he turned to go, saying as he left, “Like I said, think it over. I think you’ll see things our way in the end.”
As soon as he had gone, Cyan came close to the bars again, and the boys began to chat, more naturally this time. Cyan told Tepic that Ambal had been the one who attacked them on Leon’s ship and that he should take the Captain’s offer. He explained he had not been able to find any way out of the choice, so had become the cabin boy as the best of three bad options. Tepic asked why Cyan had not told them about his auntie, who was also a pirate, and was told that was why he had been given the choice rather than just shipped off to the Rif with the others. It was strange to him that Cyan had not invoked Brotherhood rights, but when he mentioned them, his friend just looked puzzled. They talked about Cyan’s duties, how he had to clean up after the others, and was expected to fight if boarded.
Ambal came back, and at the same time another gent entered from a door in the far wall. This one looked more like a footpad than a pirate, with sturdy riding boots, heavy working mens clothes, an old style tall hat and a scarf wrapped around the lower half of his face. The men greeted each other with an odd phrase, saying “Heads down” to each other, then Ambal left.
Cyan piped up “Where have you been Joseph?”
“It took me a while to get back.” the man stated sourly.
Tepic sensed this one could be more fun to tease and asked his friend “so he ain’t the captain either then?”
“No” Cyan replied.
“what’s this one then, the cook’s assistant?”
“Are you sure discussing with the prisoner is a good idea?” Joseph asked, clearly indicating it was not. Even more clear was that Cyan was not afraid of this man, as he stood, chest out, and declared “He’s a friend and had to make sure he was okay!”
“ooohhhh…. he’s the turnkey then!” Tepic jibed, “reckon he’s scared yer’s gonna overpower him an set me free, Cyan!”
The man stepped closer to the cell, anger rising in his eyes, and Cyan noticed he was limping.
“Are you okay there Joseph… seems you have been in a accident..”
“I did my job. As I hope you will.”
“Don’t worry about me doing my part.” the young cub said, with a sigh and a shake of his head. Tepic knew his friend was a lad of his word, and would do his best to keep it. Maybe it was time to let the pirates know some of Cyan’s strengths, in the hope they would keep him out of any fighting.
“if yer’s hurt, reckons yer could do worse than let Cyan have a look, he’s a dab hand at patchin folks up…” he said, recalling Cyan’s skill at first aid, then could not resist adding “an of course, he were the only one as could catch me!”
A tall, flamboyantly dressed female pirate stepped into the room, smirking at Joseph, having obviously heard the last remark. She turned to the cell and examined the prisoner before commenting “This the bilge rat that snuck on board?”
“Bilge rat…?” Cyan said, coming to the defence, “He’s a fox!”
“that’s me, yer Ladyship, Tepic by name, an as Cyan says, a fox.” the boy declared, with a sweeping bow, “no bilge rat could sneak aboard a craft like this!”
To his surprise, this elegant speech received a snort and the reply “We need to teach ya how ta speak lad.” from the pirate.
“yer mean i shouldn’t be callin yer a Lady?” he asked, genuinely confused, “there were a lady leadin the band of low down good fer nuffin rats as done fer me mate Dibbler in the City….”
She shook her head and maked a slashing motion with her hand like cutting through the formality with a sword, “Ain’t no Lady here. I’m a pirate. Female, but no Lady with airs.”
“ah…. first one on board i’s met as could maybe be the Captain….”
“She isn’t.” Cyan interjected.
“Hah, I’m a gunner, fox rat.” she stated, with obvious pride, grinning at the boy, who grinned back. Joseph, noting the interchange, chuckled to himself.
The quartermaster stepped in and stated “The captain said they need a nap. And to wake him when never.”
“Don’t you mean whenever?” Cyan, always the school lad, asked.
“No, he means don’t wake him or he’ll reach for the shotgun.” the lady gunner replied “Not that he can aim.”
“a good gunner’s worth their weight in treasure on a well run ship..” Tepic commented, following up “with a captain as has no eye fer aim…”
“That she is lad.” said Ambal, “It was her that shot down Leon’s ship.”
Tepic could see this angered Cyan, so made a quick check, “yer hoist yer colours an gave warnin?”
The gunner turned a balefully eye at Ambal, saying “I shot after the boy jumped ship. And aye, he had warning.”
It was clear there had been some disagreement over the affair, something Tepic made note of for later, then reported, speaking to the gunner, “he made it ashore, an hopefully will recover…. always reluctant ter back down, Leon.”
Cyan nodded in agreement, they knew Leon well.
“Symbolic really.” Ambal said with a shrug, “A ship is important to a Captain. Sinking his ship, his livelihood. He won’t be a threat for awhile.”
“yer risked a fair bit comin so close ter the City though…” the boy said, leaving the question dangle. He glanced up at a movement and saw Joseph scratching at a cut on his head. “yer should get that seen to, mate.”
“That was my call.” Ambal stated loftily, “I was flying the ship, but she wanted to give him a chance so chased him all the way into port.”
“an if the Wall Gunners wern’t nappin, yer’d have followed Leon’s ship down…”
The man shrugged away the possible consequences with “A few shots fired as we made our get away, but we made it back here.”
“yep…. this time……” the boy replied, before changing the subject to something far more important, “any how, when’s dinner round here?”
The pirates all laughed at this, and assured him he would be fed at the correct time, even though it might only be bread and water.
Tepic let his disappointment show, saying “yer bound ter have better grub than the navy, pirate crews is free folk, so yer cook has better be worth his salt, an yer Captain best keep yer fed or yer could vote him out..”
They were all vocal in their agreement, with Ambal saying “Yeah, we’ve been eating well. Speaking of Joseph, you need some meat on your bones again. I hear you did well at the initiation.”
The boys swapped glances, this was something new.
“Initiation?” Cyan asked.
“I did my best.” Joseph stated, at which Tepic shot back “with a limp an a cut ter yer head?”
Ambal clapped a hand to Joseph’s shoulder, “This guy took on Cuff’s almost on his lonesome and tore the place up!”
Joseph tried to look confident and full of himself. “Yep! The whole place!”
“Cuffs? why pick that place?” Tepic asked, “now, if yer’d picked a fight at the Gangplank, then i’d be impressed…..”
“Scottie Melnik is on the whole Rifs black list.” Ambal confirmed one of Tepic’s suspicions.
“Normally none of us want nothin to do with the rest of us.” the gunner said, “Scottie Melnik allied with our enemies and killed…. Her.”
The last word was said with a definite chill to it and even the suave Ambal shivered slightly. Joseph looked between his colleagues as if this was new to him.
“She didn’ stay dead, but it don’t matter.” Ambal said, a hint of steel in his voice, “The Hag.”
“….. uh oh…. yer Hag, ain’t it!” the boy realised how serious this was and even worse the news the Hag was alive.
“We ain’t with the Hag!” Ambal declared, quickly followed by the gunner saying “But we can’t just let that go.”
“ha! from the looks of yer, yer more afraid of her than anyone else!” Tepic could see there was real tension about the situation for the pirates.
“Yeah, but she was also OUR Hag.” Ambal almost shouted.
“The Hag had mind control powers though didn’t she?” Cyan asked. It was an opportunity Tepic could not resist, saying “blimey, an the freepeople of the Riff pirates stood fer that malarky!”
All of the pirates looked uncomfortable at this, especially Joseph, but they rallied quickly.
“Ain’t no mind control here.” said Ambal, “This is principal!”
“Sides, all we did was rough up a place in her name. What we’re doing here got nothing to do with her.” added the gunner, “This is business.”