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That's Doctor Howell To You

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That's Doctor Howell To You

Black Flag


"Raise t'gallants!"

He knows a battle lost when he sees one. The one ahead is one of those. It doesn't need much strategical or nautical knowledge for that. Common sense is quite enough. The hunter giving them chase is a three master. Even with all sails raised, Richard Howell estimates it won't be more than three hours. Maybe less. He can wait. It's all he's ever done on a ship. Waiting for battles against the Spanish to start, for people, bloody and twisting in agony, wretched as they are, to be put in front of him, and for their eyes to follow him into his sleep that night.

Half of those men running around the deck, following the captain's orders, won't live long enough to see the sunset. He's worn blue for long enough to know that.

One of the riggers brushes past him. O'Kelly or something like that. Who reaches up to his shoulder and has the mouth of someone that doesn't seem to get the idea behind a flogging. O'Kelly pushes himself onto the railing. The fabric of his shirt reveals dark stains. Some of them are dried blood, but Howell watched the proceedings a few hours ago. Some of them are new, and he hasn't had time to clean them yet.

The captain is a tyrant. And he can say that, well, think that because he knows better than to say anything. He's sailed under more greedy captains, treacherous quartermasters, and frankly too many people with the belief that the Crown is always right than he cares to remember. He can say that Captain Sullivan is a tyrant. It doesn't take much brains to see that. But if anyone on this damned ship Howell is certain that he's the one with the most brains to be the judge of that.


He suppresses the urge to turn around slowly, to meet Sullivan's eyes, and to say: "That's Doctor Howell." Instead he pretends not to have heard the bellowed sound over the noises of sails flapping in the wind, of the men scuttling across the deck, and of canons being prepared. It's chaotic. And they don't stand a chance. He would appreciate it if someone else would consider just for a minute what they're doing. Offering resistance to the Black? For cargo that, as far as he's concerned isn't worth anyone's life, not even Sullivan's.

"Howell, you son of a whore," Sullivan shouts. "Don't just stand there!"

Howell moves his head, and looks back over the shoulder. Sullivan's shirt is soaked in sweat and pearls od it have accumulated on his forehead. An icy chill runs through Howell's blood. Hysterical, scared men are more dangerous than those with a blade in their hands.

"I'm the cook," Howell says. Calm, face impassive.

"Then find something to do!"

He resists the want to wipe Sullivan's spit from his face. With a curt nod, he turns on his heels, and puts as much space between himself and Sullivan as he can. He walks to the bow where he casts a look over his shoulder. De Groot mans the helm with the same indifference his face showed when Sullivan used Larson for a keelhaul. His friend will be fine. The Dutch are more resistant to the English than O’Kelly’s Scottish accent. De Groot’s gaze doesn’t fine him, and Howell jumps down to the lowered gun deck, opens the hatch, and climbs down into the crew quarters.

Somewhere in the semi-dark, a bottle rolls over the creaking floor boards from board to starboard and back again. The hammocks swing. In his sea chest, he finds his satchel of instruments to perform surgery. They're less blunt than he remembers them to be. He shoves some bandages into the satchel and some laudanum. Just because Sullivan is an idiot doesn't mean that O'Kelly and the rest of the crew is too. They're all equally fucked which is, in a twisted way, more comforting than the sound of waves hitting the ship's hull. He's Doctor Richard bloody Howell. A decent cook, but his delicate fingers are not made to peel potatoes. They're made to put a thread through the hole of a needle, and to save lives. He fastens the dagger he got in his last gamble when he still wore blue to his belt. Pirates might have their code of honour, and their articles. But he hasn't signed them and Sullivan is seeking a fight. He knows that he'll rather stab himself than to walk the plank.