“She’s sending her personal life guard now, aye? Must be my lucky day…”
Anne doesn’t answer. In the gloomy light from the candle, Billy’s lover looks, if possible, more ugly than ever. What the lovesick bosun – yes, Anne will always think of him in that term – sees in this piece of shit is a fucking mystery and Anne must admit she’s a bit intrigued. She walks up close, steps as light as when she snuck in. The man reeks from lack of fresh air, from infected wounds and excrements.
“You’re gonna call on the other guards?”
She whispers and the man in chains just laughs, too loud and Anne quickly puts a hand across his mouth.
“You shut your fucking mouth, or I swear I’ll cut out your tongue.”
He looks at her and the blind eye looks worse than she remembers. She leans in close to his ear, the smell almost makes her vomit despite her long years among unwashed brutes at sea.
“I’m your way out of this and it will either happen by you keeping quiet and doing what you’re told, or by me cutting your miserable throat. What’s it gonna be, huh?”
She removes her hand and there’s a small panting but he keeps his lips together. She’s here because she owes Vane big time for making Jack quartermaster and having her as well, no problems, no fucking special conditions. She’s doing this because with a fine dress – now ripped and tossed in the gutter – and some swaying of the hips, it was almost too easy to have the lousy idiots in uniform take their guards down.
Men are pathetic and sometimes it irks her just how much she must act like them to be seen as something of worth. She takes one of the cuffs and turns the key she stole. The wrist is too big for these chains and the whiteness of the hands and fingers tell the tale. Loss of blood, cutting of circulation and Anne groans inside when realising she’s gonna have to drag this rat out to Vane. If he can keep quiet.
She catches Low partly, his knees giving in after what must be days of starvation and Anne is prepared for grunts and sobs, few men are tough after some days without the ability to move their limbs. This man, or monster, or whatever he is, doesn’t make a sound. He’s breathing through his nose, the air hitting her neck as he falls onto her. He’s neither the tallest nor the heaviest man she’s handled, but to fight and to carry are two very different things and Anne’s knees are about to give in more than once as she has Low fall over her back.
“Fuck’s sake, help some!”
She’s hissing but it still sounds too much and soon there will be someone to come looking for the guard who’s watch has ended in definite. The Captain is heavy, as a barely conscious body always is and with small, buckled steps and gritted teeth, Anne makes it through the door, lets it fall slowly and, with Low still as a dead weight bringing her down, she manages to turn the key. She’s never fucking liked Eleanor Guthrie and if she had a hand in this shit, Anne is more than happy to fuck some with that uptight, self-claimed little queen’s mind. If she didn’t, well, then it’s still what she fucking deserves for abandoning Max.
Anne can’t walk with Low on her back, not all the way to the meeting point. With the help of a hawser in the wall, she lets gravity help and lowers to her knees. She tugs off a string of leather from her wrist and ties Low’s arms together around her neck, to keep her hands free. While she’s grateful for the lack of noise, it’s still fucking chilling with a man who actually can keep silent while obviously being in a lot of pain.
Then, she starts crawling.
He knows pain, knows weakness, his own and others and while his thoughts are muddled by it, his broken bones and pulled out joints – oh, they sure enjoyed doing that! – Ned still feels baffled by this woman, not just with her strenght but the risk. He doesn’t know her, is only accquainted with her name and reputation but fuck, she’s strong.
It might be a useless effort though. Every breath is a stab from cracked ribs, his blind eye has been burnt and the man must’ve started to doubt himself at the end because it’s just a fucking mystery how Ned is still alive.
He might not be able to move, but he can stay silent. Silence is a language he learned along with violence while coming of age and it’s useful now.
Never show, never let them see, or hear. Never let him know, Rich!
Richard was a good brother sometimes, in his own way. Small for his age and a skilled thief but father would still beat him senseless and Ned hated the cries, had to pretend not to hear them, to stop caring alltogether while it happened. To wait for the old man to be satisfied, to find the bottle more interesting and then, mother would come out the shadows.
Ned bites down, wants something between his teeth to work on, because the grind of the jaws only makes it worse. Still, it’s in his flesh, in his blood, in his very being to chew, swallow and choke on pain. Never has he felt anything but disdain and disgust for men and boys. He’s spared the really young ones, but there’s been times during a successful hunt when he thought himself seeing what kind of man a young boy on the captured ship might become.
The sturdy, ignorant ones, too fucking confident in their vulnerable position, looking at Ned with unmasked despise in their fancy little uniforms and ridiculous hats, pretending to be men. He’s slain boys like that in front of their fathers’ eyes without remorse, seeing how a lesson learned looked to the high and mighty ones who’d never felt truly weak, never felt the cold gaze from what should’ve been a father slide across the work of art made out of his son’s body. And Ned has always, always feared to look down beneath the pain only to find emptiness.
Eliza was the one continuing the lesson mother had started. The one of gentleness, of blue comfort after the burning red. In her arms the rage would still, the hollowness get filled for a while. She let him borrow her soul since he had none. In return, his love sent her to an early grave.
There might be tears, might be blood, caught up by this entirely different woman’s shirt. As long as they’re silent and kept in the dark, it doesn’t matter. Ned would want to tell her that there’s no use in dragging his weight through these dark paths. That he should be left where she found him, should’ve let him remain unsearched for.
He can’t stand to think of the Walrus man now. Can’t afford the still so strange emotions the reason behind this headless rescue might stirr. Ned doesn’t close his eyes, he keeps staring into the abyss, his home, his one certainty in an otherwise very uncertain world where whatever future he had died with Eliza and their son. He removes the small woman onto who’s back he’s hanging and lets the reliable pain carry him through.
The girl beside him is a strange one. She doesn’t remind him of Eleanor, Max or even Anne. Disguised as a man, but that goes for Anne as well. Here in Nassau, a pair of trousers and a hat goes a long way when you were born with tits. As long as you’re prepared to be ruthless, that is. Read, as this girl, pretending to be a boy, calls herself, doesn’t look much to the world, but she’s clearly not one ruled by emotions.
She’s convinced Anne, and by extention Vane to look for her Captain, a miserable looking creature who hangs on this small girl’s back like a bag of bones. Vane has no objections with saving his kind out of prison, no matter if they’re halfway corpses, as long as it sends the right message: Nassau isn’t a place for the men in red coats, for those who can’t survive in a free world, who need rules and guidelines to live and can’t stand the sight of men being their own kings.
He does it because there are so few people in the world he admires and Billy Bones is one of them. The bosun the rumors tell never asks for anything for himself but the freedom of chains, how he slew the Captain who pressganged him and took to the black, became a man who’s strenght, skills and loyalty would be as feared as the legend of Captain Flint, were they as known. And considering Low’s miserable state when Anne finally pulls him through the sewer to their meeting point, Vane can’t help but admire the man’s absolute silence as well.
Mark, as she calls herself, is eager, too eager and Vane grabs her arm, hushing at her.
“Keep it down and get Bones!”
At least she doesn’t argue, a smart little one, walking away alongside the wall, silent as a shadow and Vane turns to his most skilled assassin and the limp weight.
“Give him to me.”
Anne looks more than relieved to be rid of the burden. Low is a fullgrown man, after all, and it’s never easy to carry an unconscious – or dead man. For all he cares, this piece of shit could take his last breath here and now but Vane is also a man of passion, knowing all too well this madness that can drive a man – or woman – to either triumphs or defeat.
He doesn’t understand how Low can stirr such madnass in the formidably loyal Billy Bones, but that’s not for him to care about. This is a message to those trying to make Nassau a civilized place, that the control they grasp for, is but an illusion and that true freedom bows to no one.
Is this what the fairytales are talking about? The songs and the poems, not the lewd ones but those of love. In another life, while still on the Navy ship, while still a shivering boy, scared and grieving, Billy would hear some in the crew sing at night. Loud, boisterous drinking tunes at first but as they got more and more rum down their throats, the men would become dewy-eyed, the songs slowly shifting from willing girls in every port, to a longing.
There was an Irishman, Billy can’t recall his name, who would bring forth his flute and play a jig, lively yet somehow melancholic and it always ended with several of the harsh, sturdy men staring out into nothing, the masks of lifted spirits and persistence, of comradery and joyful laughters slipping for a moment. How the weariness and heartache, the loneliness and poor rations, the Quartermaster’s whip and the Captain’s relentless demands caught up with them and even the lowest of them all, Billy Boy – God, how he hated that name! – was given a mouthful of the precious rum, allowed to listen to the songs of longing he was still too young to have experienced.
If this is what they sang about, then Billy is grateful he’s been spared this long. He didn’t say a thing when Anne and Vane came back, the Ranger’s Captain carrying Ned like a sack on his back. Only the girl pretending to be a boy looks eager, lifted, maybe happy for being a part of this. Still young enough to yern for the adventure, perhaps. Or she’s genuinly grateful for the rescue of her Captain. She smiles at Billy, bright teeth in her coal blackened face, but Billy can’t make himself return it. He only has eyes for the man on Vane’s shoulders and he finally gets a grip of himself and steps forward.
Vane speaks with a strained voice and Billy realises how far the Captain and Bonny must’ve dragged his lover.
“Here. I’ll take him.”
With a few grunts and a little struggling, they manage to turn Ned over to Billy’s arms and he carries him towards the horses hidden with Rackham as their guard. It’s not long, but the rescue might be discovered any moment or maybe it already has, so speed is of essence. He can feel later. Right now they need to get to homeport.
“That… might be the ugliest human being I’ve seen in my life.”
“Shut up, Muldoon.”
“He’s not wrong…”
John doesn’t even bother to glare at his matelot or Flint. He just keeps looking at the creature brought in by Billy and put on the mattress in the Captain’s quarters. There are too many people gathered here and Silver waves at the audience.
“Give them the room, will you?”
He turns to Billy.
“You need something?”
“Stay. Just you, please.”
“I aint going nowhere.”
The girl disguised as a boy seems determined and Billy nods. She can stay. John looks at Flint and Muldoon who leave, presumably to have a chat with the rest of the in this highly unexpected rescue party. John closes the door and walks up to a chair to give his leg some rest. Billy only has eyes for the sad remains of what once was one of the most feared legends and John thinks it somehow fits. Legends rarely have but slivers of truth to them, after all.
The first mate looks like he’s been shattered, but he’s keeping it together, knows it’s necessary and he starts to remove the rags left of Low’s clothes. The huge hands are delicate in their touches, knowing how to avoid more pain, how to keep it light and gentle. They’re treating the ugliest human being in the world as was he the one pure thing left to hold. John turns away, it feels like he’s looking into a privacy that should remain undisturbed, but when he catches look of the body, he can’t turn again.
“Jesus… Billy we have to get Dr. Howell.”
The first mate nods, his eyes never leaving the brutalized man. John sees how he cuts Low’s clothes open with his knife, one piece at the time and, in a gesture of decency that tugs at John’s few heart strings, putting his own shirt as a light cover over Low’s hips before cutting the blooded breeches.
“I will need water.”
John startles from his staring and swallows.
“Yes, of course. I’ll be right back.”
“He’s not a monster…”
She’s not sure why she’s talking, maybe the silence has just become too much, too long. It’s starting to make her a bit uneasy, just sitting here with the giant bosun or quartermaster or first mate or whatever he is, glued to her Captain’s side. The men who’re part in the rescue are from different crews but seem to know each other well enough to have some mutual trust.
The red-haired woman is a very interesting one but she’s not here now and perhaps that’s good. Mary finds it hard to focus on her duties in that woman’s presence, especially when in company with the man in calico clothes who never shuts up. At least this Billy Bones doesn’t chatter like a bloody parrot, but this silence is too loud and makes Mary hear all three of them breathe. She said the unbidden words to try and fill the air with something else and when the giant man doesn’t answer, she turns to the door, thinking it’s best to leave.
“No, he’s not.”
The answer comes late, but he heard her, listened and Mary stops. Billy Bones shifts position a bit and his neck cracks when he tilts his head.
“Not that it matters.”
Mary scowls. She’s just about to make a speech of defence when the man turns around and looks at her. His eyes are very dark, very soft.
“Rumors matter. Stories matter. Appearances…”
There’s a small smile and Mary knows what he means. If you need to be a man, then that’s what you’ll appear to be. Or a brute, a monster, a ghost who’s mere name strikes fear into those claiming not to believe in fairytales. In that other life she once had, Mary doesn’t think she would’ve been able to picture the scene before her.
How the huge, callous hands belonging to a man with possibly the biggest arms she’s ever seen, a man who must hunch down in order to touch the sleeping Captain, are holding one of the broken hands in his. It’s strange, unnatural even, but since coming to Nassau, a lot of things Mary has learned to have but one face, have turned out to wear countless masks. Those of strenght and brutality, of insanity and it’s opposite.
Rumors are shifting, always will, but Mary knows at least one truth and she looks at the back of the man who once again only has eyes for her Captain.
“He saved me, you know. He’s… he’s not a good man, but he’s no devil either! He’s… decent.”
She spits it out, as if Billy Bones had made an accusation and he looks at her with a slight surprise and she blushes.
“He doesn’t attack women or children. When he found out I was… he could’ve had his way with me. Could’ve thrown me to the crew too, but he didn’t!”
It’s a defence speech to an accusation that’s not been said, not in this room and certainly not by the man who must care a great deal for Captain Low and also must be kept in high regard by Captain Vane for this to happen. He smiles now and Mary can almost spot the remains of the man or boy he must’ve been before the Black caught him up.
“Mark… or Mary, whatever you prefer. Have you ever heard John Silver tell a story?”
“The one with the leg?”
“That would be him, yes.”
Mary shakes her head and Billy Bones adjusts himself again, finding a more comfortable position and he holds up the empty cup beside him.
“How about you get us both a cup of rum and then I’ll tell you the story about a man named Solomon Little…”