9th April, 1718 - Two days’ journey South-East of New London, Connecticut Colony
Monsieur Courfeyrac, though prone to lavishness when afforded the opportunity to purchase footwear, carries himself with the light-footedness of a small boy even as the planks of wood beneath his boots are subject to the whims of the sea. Today, the sea’s whims are quite agreeable, he thinks, as the feathers on his hat blow softly enough that they are in no danger of departing into the deep blue around them. With that in his mind he makes his way across the deck to the man in charge.
“It would appear we are gaining on them,” he says to his Captain, who is leaning against the railing on his elbows, brow furrowed in concentration, eyes mere slits from how much he is squinting. “There are glasses, if you require them, you know this.”
“I am thinking,” his Captain replies, a pink tongue darting out to lick his lower lip. Monsieur Courfeyrac takes these words to be the instruction they are, leaning with his back to the railing so as to see if anyone is within range to overhear the words that may follow. It appears to not be so.
“Your contact in Nassau,” he speaks once more, “She assured you the ship would be carrying more than what we two personally consider essential for our plan to have any chance of success?”
“They can hardly send a ship back to England carrying nothing but a condemned man, valuable though he may be. Connecticut may be prosperous, but even prosperity is tainted with hunger for further profits,” Monsieur Courfeyrac considers. His captain makes a noise, not quite a hum. He agrees, then, that this would simply be bad business. Courfeyrac gives him a sideways look, watches a few stray curls fly in the wind as his captain points towards the ship they’re gaining on.
“Then tell me, dear Courfeyrac, does that ship look burdened by a heavy load to ferry?”
It doesn’t. The sloop they’re pursuing rides high and proud on the waves, seemingly unconcerned by the pursuer that has been gaining on them since it first appeared on the horizon around three hours ago. Its flag defiantly hoisted to show allegiance to the Royal Navy, the ship certainly does not give the impression that it is cowed by the notion of pirates. Monsieur Courfeyrac noticed all this and more as soon as they spotted it. There is no small probability that the men will notice soon as well, and that a bleaker outlook on bounty might dampen their fighting spirit. If the wind had not played to their advantage today, they may well have lost sight of her again, considering the ship’s lighter outfit of 20 cannons offers her the benefit of speed when compared to the Abaissés’ outfit of 40 guns, though the Captain took care to lighten their load as much as he dared before they set sail. Today the wind seems to bless their endeavor, thwarting the Protestant Caesar’s escape. Courfeyrac is not one to interpret too much into divine approval unless it suits him, but today it suits him very well. Excitement thrums through his veins at the challenge before him.
“I hesitate to say she willfully misled me, and the ship flies the right flag, is the right sloop, and is precisely where her schedule puts her at. Feuilly counted their cannons. He expressed confidence that we could take them. All is as it should be.”
“Except that she is quite a bit lighter than anyone anticipated, you mean to say.”
“Yes, Captain, except that. But silks are not so heavy that they may weigh a ship down beyond reason, and are still damningly profitable. In any case there is bound to be food. My contact could not say what else the ship may be carrying.”
“I fail to see how food and silks will prove satisfying to the rabble, nor do I see why Connecticut would supply England with silk, the journey seems exceedingly complicated, does it not?” the Captain sighs, fingers tightening on the wood. “They will not be convinced by our effort to take a ship, risking the lives of many men, merely to liberate a single man of no considerable wealth, if we should find the hold empty of anything but a lone prisoner.”
“You would do well not to fret over the cargo of ships we have not yet taken.”
“As Captain some would say it is my job to fret. They may well stage a mutiny if this fails to satisfy their greed, and their greed I have found to be endless.”
“Your task is to lead men in battle, that is not quite the same, and a mutiny is usually survivable. If it were your responsibility to fret you would be doing an awful job of it. You have not even brought up the possibility that the man we are looking for might be on another ship. A prisoner of such importance, they might very well have planned a decoy to see him safely in England once more. The entirety of that crew might have the pox, now that I think about it. What is more, their cannons, inferior in number though they may be, could blow a hole in our ship and do just enough damage to sink us. Truly, Captain, there is so much to fret about, and too little time for you to do it thoroughly. I suggest you give orders instead on how to proceed with the taking of our target.”
His captain gives a heavy sigh, hands Courfeyrac the telescope, and turns to observe Bahorel, expectantly waiting with one hand on his sword belt and the other caressing the steering wheel. Monsieur Courfeyrac claps him on the back when it becomes clear that the conversation has ended, but he does not think he imagines the slight amusement in the pull of his captain’s lips. With some luck, in a few hours, that smile will have reason to appear in full.
The Eagle approaches Courfeyrac just before they come within range of the Protestant Ceasar’s guns. They are things of beauty to observe through the telescope, he has to admit, though he knows little about their organization. Sure enough, he has learned how to position them, has been taught war field strategy from his father even as the man lay ill recuperating from such battles, has accompanied his father on such conquests from the age of eight onwards, but the mechanisms of such things? Gunpowder and the fashioning of cannon balls, such things are the expertise of other crew members. Lighting a fuse is one thing, but ensuring the weapon does not backfire? Protecting those that operate it so that no limbs are blown off in the blast except those of the enemy? No, that is best left to others. He will be sure to have Feuilly inspect them, once they have won the ship. They may well provide instructions for the further maintenance of their own weapons.
Now we’ll see, you beautiful things, he grins as he observes the heavy things roll into their slots on the side of the ship, ready to do the job the Royal Navy commands of them. Now we’ll see what you are truly made of, if you, like any other of your kind, can be withstood.
“The men on deck are concerned,” The Eagle says, and the gravity of his words is but slightly mitigated by the smile playing around his lips. The Eagle is a jovial man, and hardly ever can be seen with a frown on his face. Beneath the sun his laughter lines have become permanently etched onto his face, testament to his good temper, his bald head covered by ragged red cloth that contrasts brilliantly against his light brown skin. It is part of what makes him so popular with the crew, the other credit being his refusal to grow angry no matter how many card games he loses.
“When are they not so?” Courfeyrac replies, keeping his eyes trained on the vessel, “Does their concern impede our plan to take the sloop or may we save this discourse until their blades have been wet and fighting has relieved some pressure?”
“I should think not,” The Eagle shakes his head. Overhead, the Captain shouts orders to Bahorel to bring them sideways. After confirming that the man has heard and intends to carry out his orders, he motions to their Master Gunner to check the men on his cannon teams have taken their position, ready to fire. Feuilly nods at the Captain after a cursory glance. “Ready!” He shouts confidently, his pale white skin sunburnt already after so little time without a hat. Courfeyrac is almost tempted to offer his own to the Gunner. The Eagle demands his attention once more though, and thoughts of charitably parting with his hat abandon him once more.
“They are spoiling for a fight, and they’ll take the ship if chance so blesses us. It’s what comes afterwards they’re concerned with. Petit Lard pointed out the apparent lightness of the hold and he’s prone to agitation, you know. It won’t take much to convince them to abandon their hope in the Captain if that cargo isn’t worth it.”
Courfeyrac looks at the stout, aptly named man determinedly folding a length of rope around his elbow, scarred face grim and angry eyes trained on the captain. That one has been agitating since they left port, perhaps even earlier. He has never hidden his dislike of the Abaissés’ captain, but he had followed orders without noticeable protest so far. His disapproval when the captain was voted into office was noted by their old Quartermaster, who gave in to a fever some years ago now. Courfeyrac had paid him little mind, a creature of small importance on their ship, commanded on deck not by the Quartermaster but rather the Boatswain, and The Eagle had not voiced suspicion of him before tonight.
“I do not imagine the British will simply surrender to us with the way they are behaving. You can ask the men what they think that means in regard to the value of their cargo if they get around to voicing skepticism. Captain hoisted our colors an hour ago, and they have not surrendered, have not as much as dropped anchor or anything of the like. Either they seriously mean to attempt escape, or…”
“Or else they’re waiting for someone to come to their rescue that might be floating nearby,” The Eagle realizes, “Just my luck if that is the case. Did any source of yours mention this ship being accompanied?”
“Not that I know of, no. The cargo is likely to be insured anyway, it would not be worth such a costly guard dog.”
(That, Courfeyrac thinks, is exactly what makes merchant vessels such favorable targets.)
But a man accused of high treason on the way to his own execution, well, that is a different matter entirely, Courfeyrac thinks, one that warrants a warship or two by its side, depending on how much worth a certain Monarch stakes on keeping his throne free of dangerous rumors that may otherwise topple him. He turns his head towards the captain, still glaring at the Protestant Caesar, and hopes he still has some luck to use up today.
The Captain swings his hook first, after the Abaissés has, through a maneuver Courfeyrac cannot help but admire, managed to corner the sloop against a front of unfavorable tides. Say what you will about their Sailing Master’s brawn, he is not without considerable skill at the wheel or the ability to execute the Captain’s wishes. Escape seems impossible now, and he can hear English orders being frantically shouted and relayed on the other vessel. He can tell the Captain hears them as well, understanding the panic that underscores them, and watches a little private smirk unfurl on his face. There is no small amount of relief present as well, as the grappling hook lands, and Feuilly orders his cannon crew to cease their bombardment and prepare for boarding. Petit Lard is to Courfeyrac’s right, and in the glittering sunlight his fletched teeth bring a worried sigh to Courfeyrac’s lips, not spilling over into the air, barely restrained. That man will have to be dealt with in the aftermath, in all likelihood.
On his other side, the Captain stands rigidly now, no second hook of his own to be thrown, but a hand firm on his cutlass as he stares the British crew down. Another order is made and their plank creaks as the first musket balls begin to fly. The Captain throws Courfeyrac a final look; they exchange nods, and wordlessly vow to meet again on the other side of the battle. This strategy has worked surprisingly well these past five years. Without this ritual completed, danger has not truly started to enclose them, not in their minds.
Dodging in such surroundings, Courfeyrac knows well, leads quickly to a watery death – if it is not the impact on saltwater littered with shards of damaged ship that kills you, it is the pull of the waves, or fire, or toppling pieces of wood that end you, but altogether water is a safer bet of death than the English – and he has come to rely on ignoring the smell of gunpowder and the whistling air around him alike, while in a fight. More often than not it has been mere luck that none have hit him.
There is a thrill to it though, he has to admit. His childhood had not been conducive to any personal fighting not considered a sport. Oh yes, the Chevalier de Courfeyrac would have been hard-pressed to send his son into actual danger when he could just as easily allow him to purview the King’s forces dying in a war fought on foreign soil, for the perceived right to a foreign throne, to extend more cruelty over a foreign people. They had dropped by the dozens, then by the hundreds, and from his eighth year onwards Courfeyrac had thought it unbearably strange how the men stood calmly, reloading their guns and shot down methodically as they did so, never thinking to break rank and instead defend their lives with the sword or run from almost certain death. That kind of discipline was inspiring, though not enough to make Courfeyrac wish to emulate it. Discipline, carried to its extreme, is once more turned into foolishness.
(“Papa,” he would say, seated on the saddle with the man protectively behind him, excitedly observing through a looking glass, “Why do they not defend themselves?”
“Mon petit,” his father would reply grandly, “They fight for something larger than themselves. They fight for the glory of Monsieur le roi, and would sooner die than abandon their aims of protecting his interests. Such is the way of the valiant Frenchmen.”
Later, Courfeyrac had reached the likelier conclusion that death lingered in both directions, and that death by the enemy, rather than death after desertion, meant that a soldier’s family might have at least a little hope of compensation.)
It is why Courfeyrac prefers this type of fighting, where he knows his own men fight for the goal of gold, a choice they made, rather than because they were pressed into the fight by a greedy King. It is each man’s own greed and ambition that drives the fight. They themselves reap the benefits of it and see it satisfied. Granted, there is the same chance of death for cowardly behavior, though because even the highest ranking among them fight as others do, Courfeyrac feels less of the guilt he felt while with his father, when they kept a safe distance and suffered no repercussion for their own cowardice, their refusal to fight; when every well to do man could press a few coins in the right palms and see his life safe, claiming spoils they sacrificed other men for.
When his hat is blown off by a stray gunshot and his sabre promptly dispatches the shooter to the afterlife, his blood runs hot, he cannot deny it. Cuts received in moments of such fervor are easily ignored and there is only a goal to be reached. A goal they strive for together, each and every man working in unison to achieve it. It is harmonious, the sound of swords with the grunts and growls that accompany fighting, the orders their Captain shouts, the way they are obeyed.
With every sailor that seeks to block his path to the barred hold, his confidence that they have entered the right ship grows. He sees Petit Lard cut down by a square-chested sailor with greasy black hair and privately admires the man’s fighting ability. Too many of the Royal Navy’s sailors are without measurable skill, kidnapped from taverns or lured in with promises of money for their families.
This one fights as though he actually knows what he is doing, as though he has had more than meagre instruction hastily given on deck seconds before danger arrived, but Courfeyrac loses sight of him quickly when the call to surrender is heard across the ship. The Captain of the Protestant Caesar is on his knees for the man Courfeyrac follows, and it seems the day is won. The English Captain’s chin is raised slightly by the cutlass that has disarmed him, and though there is some demurring, the English soldiers lower their weapons. It takes further hesitance for the sailors to follow suit, but ultimately the clatter of weapons on the wooden floor grows steadily louder.
“Disarm and disable, Gentlemen, no one is to be harmed until further notice,” Courfeyrac cries out, though many bodies already litter the deck, “Charles and Ménard, with me!”
As Courfeyrac makes his way through the hold of the ship, two of the men flanking him, they come upon the body of a soldier, and he does not think it bodes well. “Was there fighting down here?”
“It doesn’t look it, Mister Courfeyrac, the surrender on deck was complete before we breached the doors,” the man to his left says. “No damage, no blood beyond the single wound. If they did fight down here it wasn’t fair.”
Charles squats next to the body of the soldier, who is indeed missing one eye. “No, this one was murdered, I’d think. Choked by manacles, if I were a betting man, though the eye might have been what did him in, in the end.”
“You are a betting man, Charles,” Monsieur Courfeyrac says, drawing his sabre as he walks further into the rooms only sparsely illuminated by the sun above. They have sat down at many a tavern table with one another, a deck of cards between them, whenever they reach port. Past a few more barrels that he orders the man to his right to bring back onto their ship, another dead man lies, chained to a pallet. This one has his throat cut.
Courfeyrac is forced to take a deeper breath than he should like to maintain a calm face. On a ship supposedly carrying only one prisoner, a dead man, shackled, is precisely what he had not wanted to find.
“Ménard, take the rest of the barrels, see if you can find anything of note in the rooms there. I am going to have a look at our second dead man.”
Courfeyrac regards the body, going onto one knee in front of him. In his pockets there is nothing, his hair is shaved, his skin weathered as you would expect of a sailor. Not an old man by any account, but aged quickly under a harsh sun. His skin is still warm, the blood still pooled wetly on his shirt. But there’s no pulse to be found, not a breath to be heard.
Monsieur Courfeyrac returns onto the Abaissés on steady legs, though a new urgency propels him. As he dismounts the plank a strong hand catches his own to catch him when, despite his caution, he stumbles a little. A second hand appears low on his back, warm and more of a comfort than it has any right to be. He nods his thanks at Monsieur Combeferre, the tallest man on their crew, whose spectacles and face are smattered with droplets of blood today, visible even against the dark brown of his skin, stark in contrast to the white shirt he wears. There is some concern in those sagacious eyes, though little else to make out. Monsieur Combeferre, Courfeyrac has found out years ago, is a man that keeps his cards unbearably close to his chest, but given the man’s history, Courfeyrac cannot begrudge him the privacy he clearly desires.
(A man can have a multitude of reasons to keep to himself, he supposes, when he thinks of Monsieur Combeferre, or their Captain. What is important to Courfeyrac, all things considered, is that a man does not pretend he has nothing to hide. That, he thinks, is true dishonesty.)
Perhaps someday he should mention as much to the man who has functioned so closely by his side in such a professional capacity since they fished him out of the water near Charleston, but that will have to wait until circumstances permit conversation that isn’t hurried or laden with plans for the taking of another ship.
“Captain’s quarters,” Courfeyrac tells him, “Now.”
“There are men that need seeing to,” Monsieur Combeferre sighs, following Courfeyrac’s eyes to his own shirt, run through with blood. “It is not mine. You know I’m never the first over the vanguard with you. But I’ve got Isaac waiting for an amputation of his right leg and several other wounds that need to be dealt with.”
“Isaac’s need is pressing, I gather?”
“Quite. I assume you have not found…” Monsieur Combeferre starts, pausing when he spots blood on Courfeyrac’s hands, immediately frowning. Courfeyrac is fascinated that his spectacles do not even dislodge a fraction of an inch, firmly held in place though they must press horribly down on the skin of his head.
“Not a drop of my own on these hands,” Courfeyrac holds each of his digits up for inspection, “But someone cut my back, I am aware of it now that the fighting is done. You can have a look at it later if it will appease your worried brow. As for what I have not found, I dare say you are right in your assumptions, Monsieur. I must go see the Captain now. Tell The Eagle, if he happens to fly your way, that the sloop has beautifully fresh, intact cannons, he has been complaining about two of ours being unreliable and perilous to clean for the past three weeks. Feuilly can take them from our gracious hosts.”
“What of the crew that surrendered?” Monsieur Combeferre eyes the thirty or so men kneeling in the blood of their slain compatriots.
“I imagine that will depend on whether the Captain sees fit to give quarter today, though I do not expect him to, given what I am about to tell him.”
Monsieur Combeferre takes a deep breath. Promptly, he excuses himself, taking two men to assist the limping and whimpering Isaac to where they may strap him down.
“Dead?” The Captain sits at his desk, staring at Courfeyrac in disbelief. His eyes are never as wide as when he is genuinely, horrifyingly caught off-guard. Courfeyrac does not think he has seen them in this wide a state since he knocked on the man’s door at age sixteen with spare clothes, offering escape and a chance to fulfill dreams. He almost has to smile upon remembering that night, the unspoken gratitude and the utter lack of regret that followed it.
Back in the present, some ten years later, it appears Courfeyrac is not the only one that has lost his hat, though he sees the captain’s sitting nearby, so this progression into a state of undress must have been deliberate rather than a casualty in the battle. It only ever is so within the Captain’s quarters.
“Throat slit from ear to ear is how we found him. They must have known we knew about who they were carrying and decided they would rather kill a man without even a farce of a trial than let what he knows fall into the wrong hands. Likely they had a failsafe in place. It looks like he did not go without a fight either. Found a naval officer that was choked by manacles and had his eye gouged out not three feet from him, his hands still bloody, and a knife glistening nearby.”
“Shit,” the Captain says.
Yes, Courfeyrac is quite inclined to agree.
“On the plus side,” he says, “I was blessedly right about the silk. Charles found the hold brimming over with it. I think that shall sell spectacularly well with the merchants of Guadeloupe, do you not concur? And someone in Nassau enjoys excellent relations with them. That is, if they manage not to get blood on it, but that would be their own damn fault then, and they could hardly blame you or me for it.”
“If you can find someone to fence it – I hear the old Gillenormand is ailing,” the Captain throws in, fiddling with his knife, his touch just light enough not to draw blood.
“I hear his grandson is set to arrive from Paris any day now to take over the family business,” Courfeyrac shrugs, “There is always Thénardier to sell to, since the Spanish merchants refuse to talk to me once I drop your name. Could you not have changed your name as any sensible pirate does to something that might be less offensive to the Spaniards than your father’s name?”
“You have not seen fit to change yours either,” the Captain snorts, looking up at last from his knife.
“And I have never subscribed to the idea of being a sensible person,” Courfeyrac grins. “I will gladly leave such virtues in the capable hands of men like our surgeon.”
“Still not a friend of fighting, I suppose?”
“Not at all, he remains the steadfast enemy of violence not invoked in the name of medicine, though he is as fearsome as ever with a cleaver and some incentive,” Courfeyrac shrugs, “The crew forgives his opposition easily, given how many of their lives he has saved now. They would find themselves hard-pressed to come across a better man for the job. Let me think…we could sell it back to the English, sail back to Nassau once our business here is concluded to confer with my contact.”
“I piss on the English,” the Captain sneers.
“As you piss on Thénardier, and the Fleur-de-lis, and all those that we trade with out of necessity,” Courfeyrac acknowledges. “You are notoriously hard to appease, have I ever told you that?”
“Well, my dear Captain, once you figure out a way to keep this crew from mutiny without compromising your conscience in the pursuit of our goals, let me know, and I shall try my very best to fulfill your dreams of selling stolen goods in a way that benefits the greater good. For now though, we have possible recruits to muster. And you need to decide whether quarter will be given.”
“We still need to decide on our next step of action.”
“Aye,” Courfeyrac nods, “I imagine Monsieur Combeferre would like to be included in that conversation, which is why we must wait to have it once Bahorel has brought us on our way from here.”
This English captain, Courfeyrac thinks, does not look like a man he would entrust with the safekeeping of England’s most wanted traitor. His limbs are spindly, his face haughty and arrogant, set apart from the rest of his crew by how clean-shaven he is, how well-mended and fitted his clothes are, how meticulously powdered his wig. Courfeyrac is reminded no small amount of his late father, the presumption of power is the same he sees in many of the nobility. He almost suggests they ransom him, if only to bring the prize of their haul up a little more yet, but that would mean keeping him alive for at least six months, and such negotiations rarely turn out favorably.
“Are you who your flag says you are?” The English Captain asks. His speech is rasped, but his voice remains steady despite the evident fear in his eyes. A small pool of blood has gathered on his collar from where he was struck on the shoulder, but otherwise he is immaculately composed. It is, Courfeyrac remembers as another military instruction, a matter of pride for captured men that still care for their reputation to uphold such a demeanor, but he does not admire the man any more for it. The sneer on his lip as he beholds the man whose crew captured him goes a long way in diminishing any respect Courfeyrac might hold for him. The flag they sail under has gained notoriety in recent months, but so has their Captain, for reasons less favorable. Rumors spread, and Courfeyrac thinks it is due to a remarkable effort of his talents and The Eagle’s cooperation, that not once has the crew demanded to see the Captain disprove such rumors. There would be no way to disprove them, after all, not without enlightening the crew on several subjects Courfeyrac generally considers above their grasp. One by one they might be persuaded to accept the truth, but as a mob stoked by rumors flying left and right? That is far less likely, to say the least.
“Who I am is of little consequence,” The Captain answers, blue eyes narrowing. Courfeyrac stands behind his captain, glancing across the deck on occasion to look at what remains of the crew. Anyone wearing a soldier’s uniform will be put to death, such a thing is inevitable. Out of the sailors that remain, the merchants, well… there are certain posts on their ship that must be refilled. They only lost two men today, but three were injured, and Monsieur Combeferre’s continued lack of presence on deck indicates that they are in the process of losing more.
Not every man can continue to fight absent a leg, or absent his wits. And while compensation is guaranteed for every man that does his part, it is all too easy to drink it away and fall into debt, then death, in quick succession. Replacements are nonetheless necessary.
“Captain Enjolras, that is who you are, then,” their prisoner says, over-affecting the French pronunciation of the ancestral name, “I always thought the stories of your youth must have been grossly exaggerated, the stuff that feeds a legend on the waters. You look to be more a maid of seventeen than the fearsome pirate captain you claim to be.”
Enjolras does not smile. No singular muscle in his – admittedly, yes, very youthful – face twitches. To his great credit, he does not strike the captain in anger either, though Courfeyrac is grimly considering it for himself.
“You were escorting a prisoner back to Whitehall, Captain, your log says as much and a letter from the Earl of Orford himself, promising you opulent rewards upon reaching your destination. Were you under orders to execute the man, should your ship be overtaken?”
Laughter bubbles out of their prisoner slowly, like a spring only just unearthed. It grows until he laughs himself hoarse, Courfeyrac can barely make out a few words through the thickness of his throat, fluent though his English may be: “French bastards” and “For the glory of King George.”
The man’s fate is decided shortly thereafter, with but one look passed between Enjolras and Courfeyrac.
“Find me our surgeon, would you? I believe I require some assistance in choosing the weapon that might cause the most efficient torture, or else my clumsy fingers might truly take their time,” Enjolras’ English is crisp, learned easily while accompanying his father as envoy to London in his youth, before he was ever introduced to Courfeyrac in a grand manor, before Courfeyrac ever kissed his hand and Enjolras ever curtsied with a roll of his deep blue eyes. Courfeyrac believes that it is the frighteningly calm tone of voice that finally sobers the English captain to the reality of his situation.
“Right away,” Courfeyrac promises.
“This one says he wants to join,” the Boatswain catches Courfeyrac by the elbow on his way to the retrieve Monsieur Combeferre. Courfeyrac takes in the potential recruit. He remembers the greasy dark hair of the sailor that sent Petit Lard to his death with a clean cut. The same broad chested man stands in front of him now, his beard devastatingly unkempt. Though many sailors have grown a beard none he has seen today are quite as wild as this one.
“You have seen fighting today,” Courfeyrac points out, looking at the man’s bloodied shirt and recalling the memory of Petit Lard’s sudden death well. “Your own blood?”
“Nothing too grave,” the man smirks, holding up his right palm. The wound is not deep at all, Courfeyrac does not think even the muscle has been cut.
“Hm,” Courfeyrac considers, “What did you do for King and Country?”
“Rigging. I saw one of your men on the nets blown to pieces by British cannons, so I thought I might take his place, since I doubt your Captain intends to leave survivors, with how murderously he’s haranguing the cunt this ship took orders from.”
The man is astute, and a general air of gruffness usually proves useful to surviving on the sea. There is little reason to refuse him.
“Your wound might fester.”
“It might and it might not,” the man agrees. “Chance, that.”
“How is your French, Monsieur…?”
“Raleigh, though I go by R. Good enough to curse a man out and to procure the services of a willing lady. That has always served me well enough,” the man says, scratching his beard with the uninjured hand. It’s shockingly dirtied, and though Courfeyrac knows his own cleanliness is lacking at the moment, he’ll be sure to toss the man into a bathtub – or, if no possibility presents itself, the ocean, once they make port. Honestly, the Royal Navy and her standards.
“We do need someone up there,” Courfeyrac sighs, “Very well, L’Aigle, show him the ropes. And teach him the meaning of the orders he might hear, that’s most pressing for the time being.”
Feuilly has some English still, though more Gaelic, being an old powder monkey of the Royal Navy himself, once pressed into service in some Irish port or other, so in all likelihood they’ll get on well enough. Courfeyrac is quite content with his choice to replace their man in the nets. If now they could only rid him of his stench.
Monsieur Combeferre, it appears, has run into some trouble of his own in the course of Isaac’s amputation. Currently it seems the man is passed out, and Courfeyrac sees what used to be the man’s right leg, up to his knee, laying forgotten some feet away. Monsieur Combeferre is in the process of washing the merrily bleeding wound with one of the mixtures that has generated the rumors of tribal witchcraft among other crews, given how seldom one of their own succumbs to infection. Monsieur Combeferre has repeatedly explained the importance and strategy of reducing inflammation to any crew member that dares to ask, but most are content to put their trust in his capable hands, much to what Courfeyrac perceives to be the man’s exasperation. Sometimes, Monsieur Combeferre reminds him of an ignored prophet and the image amuses him. On occasion he takes to asking Monsieur Combeferre about the subject of medicine and passes an evening listening to the man speak in awe and admiration. Other days, he admits to Monsieur Combeferre that he does not understand what he is saying, and they speak of other things.
Isaac awakes with a gasp, heaving for a few breaths before looking down and beginning to scream in earnest. It is a sight Courfeyrac never wishes to wake up to, his leg suddenly disappearing.
“Hold him down, would you?” Monsieur Combeferre demands of Courfeyrac before he has formally acknowledged his presence. Here, there is something to truly be admired: the way Monsieur Combeferre manages to stay calm through the grisliest of proceedings. Nothing suffices to shake his composure. The man does not raise his voice for anyone, not in all the years that Courfeyrac has known him. He threads a needle and begins to stitch the flaps of skin he has left hanging over together, cauterizing arteries with a heated blade as he progresses. Isaac sporadically loses his bearings and comes to again, clutching and clawing at Courfeyrac, screaming in agony.
“There’s a good man,” Courfeyrac commends with a tender slap to the cheek, once the worst of it has passed, feeding the patient and himself some particularly strong rum. This medical business, once the fighting has passed, is ghastly, and Courfeyrac’s stomach is not appreciative of it. He can fight a man to the death when his blood is high, but to do this to a friend in the name of saving his life? Unbearable.
“We have found someone for the rigging,” Courfeyrac says, watching Monsieur Combeferre clean his hands with a rag that has seen better days before he begins to methodically clean the skin surrounding the amputated joint, checking for residual bleeding. It looks to have subsided.
“As for the other incapacitated prisoners, they do not seem to care much to sail under a French Captain, despite our reputation of fearsomeness.”
“I wonder,” Monsieur Combeferre explains his thoughts as he moves on to cleaning his spectacles, “Is it the Captain’s French that bothers them, or is it that they do not believe Enjolras a Captain worthy of issuing commands to lead them?”
“I believe I heard the word youth whispered under shallow breath, the inevitable consequence of his countenance. They will come to fear him soon enough. I do not doubt he will make a show of their Captain. He has requested your presence and advice, though that may have been for show. You know how little these noble Captains fear more than seeing a man such as you respected and valued among those they would prescribe more worth to.”
“A man such as myself…” Combeferre muses distractedly, at last cleaning his instruments, which Courfeyrac knows to be the final step in his surgical process. “Check his pulse as I showed you every quarter of an hour or so, fetch me if it changes considerably, otherwise let him rest and I dare say he is likely to survive. Oh, and do make sure you clean him up if he has lost his bowels after all, I thought I might have heard something indicative and do not think he needs the humiliation when he awakens for good, do you?”
“Thank you, Doctor,” Joseph claps Combeferre’s shoulder, eyes shining with awe. Monsieur Combeferre turns back to Courfeyrac, eyes curious behind less bloody spectacles.
“And what kind of man does the Quartermaster mean to insinuate I am, I wonder?”
“You know well there is no man I hold in higher esteem than you, Monsieur Combeferre,” Courfeyrac hastens to assure him, “Though let us not pretend that, were we on the continent or in the old world, mine would be a view the majority accepted.”
Monsieur Combeferre regards him a moment longer, and Courfeyrac cannot shake the notion that he must have upset the man unintentionally. That will also have to be addressed when they are afforded time.
“You could not persuade Enjolras to be merciful?”
The change in topic is a welcome one, steering them back to why Courfeyrac initially sought them out below deck.
“I do not much desire him to show mercy today. That is more your nature than mine. From what I heard from the crew he was a right piece of shit who pocketed more than he shared, but even fear inspires solid loyalty sometimes.”
“And so you would readily see him butchered?”
“There is no butchery in what the Captain does, only a disturbing lack of hesitance. Come, Mister Combeferre, the spectacle beckons. No one would have you miss it.”
Courfeyrac finds the Captain with his arms crossed, eyes watching the prisoners. His gaze is uncompromising in its harshness after the English Captain’s soul has fled his body. In the end there was little use for torture, as the sight of Monsieur Combeferre, bloodied and menacing in his determined stride, induced the Captain to reveal where he had hidden the documents pertaining to the case of the traitor even before the cache of surgical tools was ever revealed, and that he had not received instructions to have the man killed, but rather have him reach Whitehall intact or suffer greatly for it, swiftly followed by pleading and appeals to Enjolras’ mercy.
(“It is something more than we thought to have half an hour ago, these records,” Courfeyrac shrugs when Enjolras asks his opinion on the matter, “And if it is true that England does not know the extent of what has been tortured out of the prisoner before his untimely death, there is still considerable power in our hand when we make our move.”
“Something feels off about the way he laughed, does it not? Like he could not believe the prisoner to be dead, almost. It is most unsettling.”
“I can have Monsieur Combeferre declare the body, if that would ease your conscience, Captain, but I doubt his report will greatly differ from mine.”
“Do it, though do not mistake it for a lack of trust in your declaration, I beg you.”
“Dear friend I know you merely wish to assure yourself. I am not offended.”)
“Have any of them joined up?”
“Just one man, to replace the man that was shot to pieces in the nets, and he seems an adequate fighter too. We’ll have to see about other replacements on land. Petit Lard is dead and Monsieur Combeferre has not informed me of the extent of our other injuries yet.”
Courfeyrac points out the man standing next to Bossuet, free of shackles and with a makeshift bandage around his injured hand, conversing with him as if they had known each other for years by way of emphatic hand movements. There’s an easy smile around his lips that Courfeyrac is inclined to mistrust. In his experience, men who are not shaken at least a little in the aftermath of blood and carnage are the most dangerous there are. No, the man seemed quite nonchalant, and in consequence Courfeyrac has already decided to keep a very close eye on the man.
(It is why it comes as such a relief that he can still manage to find Enjolras staring out of the windows in his quarters, fingers shaking and eyes hard but red, every time their raids are complete. It is why, later tonight, before Monsieur Combeferre arrives from his duties to discuss further strategies, Courfeyrac will offer Enjolras some comfort that has not been rejected since the night the man revealed his truth to Courfeyrac, and it is why come tomorrow, they will feel somewhat whole again.)
“Says he worked the riggings on the ship, holds little love for the English. Apparently his mother was a Scottish whore. He says it is only customary to for a Scotsman to throw his lot in with the French. Very savvy, though his actual French seems somewhat lacking.”
“Well enough, he shall have to do. I suppose we had better get on with the dreadful business then,” Enjolras frowns. His knuckles whiten a little on the wood before him, more tension in his shoulder than before they had taken the ship. Quieter, he says: “They surrendered, Courfeyrac. It is not right of us to deny them.”
“It is not,” Courfeyrac agrees, “But if the ship reaches its destination our plan is more than likely shot.”
“We discussed this,” Enjolras nods, stiffly, eyes flitting around the deck, where their men stand poised to follow any order given. “And still I wish there were a different path to take that might lead us where we must go.”
“If I could but envision one I would urge you to take it,” Courfeyrac promises. “But I cannot in good conscience encourage you to use morality as a compass today.”
“Very well,” Enjolras decides, having taken a deep breath of consideration.
Then he gives the order to shoot.