Billy woke up on hard wood, lying on his side. His whole body ached as if he ran back and forth on a ship. A headache pulsed in his head making him feel nauseous. As he slowly regained his senses, he realized that he was in a ship hold. Billy sighed, annoyed at himself, and tugged at the rope binding his hands behind his back. No luck, it had been tightly knotted.
Breathing through the nose, Billy then set to dislodge the filthy cloth covering his mouth so he could breathe better. Waking up to a mix of filth, whale grease, dust, and mould did not help his nausea. Hr was lucky the men were better at tying rope: removing the cloth was like child play considering. At least, he could breathe better.
Billy blinked, took a deep breath and tried to sit. Not an easy fit when you are hand bound. The sea’s rolling did not help in the matter. When he finally succeeded in sitting upright, the pirate proceeded in observing his surroundings. Unfortunately, nothing was really different from any other hold. He could almost believe he was back on the Walrus if he forgot he fell to the sea during the storm. His crew would not take him prisoner, would they? The last days he spent with them were quite tense, but they were a loyal lot, all of them. That was what he hoped. Billy shook his head. Now was not the time for dabbling in his memories. Although, darn, did he missed the old girl.
In any case, he was a prisoner here until one of the crew came down there. It seemed like hours passed before anyone came. Billy was thirsty, hungry and he was so tired he started to doze off. Voices and a door creaking open startled him into awake. This might be his chance to learn something about who was holding him and why. Feet and something else thundered on the wooden stairs and ground. Billy saw two men approaching. There were dragging another man by his arms. He seemed unconscious. A third man closed the door and walked to them at a more sedate pace.
He must be the quartermaster. The two men holding the other prisoner almost brushed Billy in passing. He got a glimpse of the man's face. Billy opened his mouth without meaning to when he recognised his old captain, James Flint. Flint's presence was more a relief that he would want to admit. To anyone.
The so called quartermaster stepped in front of Billy and looked down, smirking. Billy tensed, not knowing what he was going to do.
“I see that you can speak now. Get up, lad,” the man ordered gruffly, grabbing tightly Billy's left arm and trying to lift him up. “Don’t resist, boy,” he grunted when Billy stubbornly did not move.
“Get up, I said, or I hurt 'em,” the quartermaster threatened, gesturing with his thumb toward Flint's unconscious body.
His grip on his arm tightened furthermore when Billy clenched his jaw to prevent his body from reacting to that threat. It would be a bad idea if the crew realized Billy knew Flint. Despite himself, he could not stop his eyes to flicker worryingly to the captain. Unfortunately, the man saw it and it looked like it pleased him. Billy cursed himself mentally. He unintentionally showed them a weakness and no good pirate would pass on an opportunity like that. It might not have been a play, but Billy walked right into it. Now, they knew how to make him talk if they needed to.
“Come on, get up!”
The man tried to lift him up and Billy went willingly. He faltered a bit and almost fell over. His legs were numb from immobility. The quartermaster narrowed his eyes and sighed impatiently, forcing Billy to go faster. Once he was standing, the quartermaster slapped him violently across the face, making him bite his tongue. He spat the blood he had in his mouth next to the quartermaster’s shoes.
He wished pettily it stained the shoes.
He looked back at the man, who was glaring at him. Billy ground his teeth together to prevent himself from doing something rash. He had no doubts it would land him on the plank or worse, dead. Seeing no reaction from Billy, the other man smiled smugly. Billy smiled at him ironically.
The quartermaster led him to a pole. He forced Billy to sit on the left side. The other men dragged Flint and propped him against the pole on the opposite side. The quartermaster bent down to remove the rope around Billy's hands. If he could lean farther in, Billy could just bite his ear off. However, this was something that should wait for a more appropriate moment.
Even if he wanted to leave, he could not. He could not in good conscience try to leave without Flint, even though their last talks were less than friendly. Billy knew they worked better together; Flint had a mind for escaping and staying alive while he was at it.
Someone tugged sharply at Billy's hands.
“Put your hands back,” one of the men ordered.
Billy clenched his jaw but obeyed. The two men chuckled darkly. One of them held Billy's left hand while the other took care of the right. They simultaneously bound Flint and Billy's wrists together. Billy tried to hold his wince when it rubbed against his chafed skin. Fortunately, the men did not see it.
Once they finished, they walked back to the stairs, snickering and glancing at them. The quartermaster smirked and followed his subordinates, leaving Billy and Flint in the darkness and dampness of the hold.
Billy tugged tentatively at the bindings. As he assumed, these pirates knew how to tie a knot. He could feel Flint's wrists against his. There was not any room to free his hands. Billy craned his head as far as he could. He could not see much because of the column. He made out that Flint slumped forward, his head lolling a little, and was still unconscious.
He apparently suffered from a head wound that was still fresh. Billy was relieved to see it had stopped bleeding. The captain was going to be alright. If they were to escape, Flint would be more useful with all his wits. Now he just had to wait for him to wake up so they could think up a plan of escape.
Minutes passed and there were still no signs that the captain was waking up. Time clicked away and sleep started to seep through Billy. He could close his eyes, just for a few minutes.
He closed his eyes, resting his head against the column behind him and promptly fell asleep.
“Hey! Hey, you, wake up!”
Billy frowned. He was all alone, fighting for his life against the waves. The sea was testing him and she was likely to win. His strength was leaving him, he felt so tired as exhaustion took over his limbs. Maybe this was the end and what an honour it was to die within the sea’s hearty embrace.
Something tugged hard on his hands. Billy groaned and opened his eyes. He had been dreaming. He was not in the sea any more; he was on a ship.
“Come on, lad, wake up now!” Flint’s voice grunted angrily.
Billy shook his head to erase the last figments of his dream. He moistened his lips, trying to remove the salty taste.
“Captain, it’s me, Billy.”
He felt a sudden movement on the bindings but only silence answered him.
“Captain?” Billy asked a bit worried.
“I’m not a captain anymore, Billy. I– I thought…” Flint stopped as if he was unsure or did not know what to say.
“A lot happened since I left, huh?”
Flint snorted and sighed tiredly. It surprised him. The captain always seemed confident, in control. Well, most of the time, anyway.
“You can’t possibly imagine,” Flint commented, his voice slightly bitter. “Billy, you… we thought you were dead. Why didn’t you come back? It’s been weeks.”
There was anger in his tone.
Billy pressed his lips together. He understood but after what happened between them before he fell, he thought he had no right to feel vindictive.
“I wanted to at first,” Billy started, determined to explain why he did not come home. “Then, they were rumours about mutiny. There were rumours you associated with some dishonourable crew, and Mr. Gates’ death–”
“Didn’t you learn you shouldn’t listen to rumours?” Flint cut suddenly.
“Not when they are true.” Billy replied. The captain fell silent.
Few seconds passed. Billy could not resist, he had to know.
“Are the rumours false, then?”
Flint remained stubbornly silent. Billy sighed. Their reunion did start well. If they were to escape, he needed Flint to talk. His silence was unnerving. Billy shook his hands, and Flint finally reacted.
“We found the treasure, Billy. Well, we found the ship, the Urca di Lima. It washed up ashore on an island but we hadn’t realised it wasn’t alone.”
Billy closed his eyes. For a long time, he wished Flint’s fantasy would stop. It made him obsessed, violent and a petty liar. He wished it was just a fantasy.
“Did you take it?”
“No, the treasure… was gone before we could do anything. And the crew, our crew… well, let’s say they didn’t think it was worth it.”
Flint had a way of commanding people that did not please everyone. Billy remembered when he helped Flint lie about the schedule and Singleton’s death. He risked his respect and his life for Flint. Not every crew would be willing to do that.
“Is that when Mr. Gates…” Billy gulped. “When Mr. Gates died?”
“Yes.” He answered tersely.
“Was it worth it? Really worth it?” Billy asked, a deep sorrow settling within. Mr. Gates had been a great mentor to him. Knowing he was gone because of gold and treasure broke his heart.
Flint shrugged his shoulders.
“Honestly, Flint, was it really worth it?” Billy repeated. He wanted to know, he needed to know for his sake. Did he make the right decision in staying away? Or could he have saved Mr. Gates if he had been there? Could he have stopped some of it?
“I don’t know Billy, I don’t know,” Flint answered, sounding almost regretful.
Despite being resentful, it stumped Billy a little. Flint had always been sure of himself – his mad plans, his crew, his ship. Billy had never seen him like that. Not even when he was wrong and caught in a lie.
A thought crossed his mind but he dismissed it before it took hold. It would be unbelievable. He had to know though.
“Do you know who this crew is?” Billy decided to ask.
“They knocked me out from behind.” Flint started to say. He sounded pensive.
“Did you see them?” Flint asked.
“Only for a few seconds. I think I saw the quartermaster. I’m not sure.”
“Did you see a man with a blind eye?”
Flint moved his hands in an aborted gesture to his face. Billy could only see Flint’s nose, the shadow of his mouth and a few strands of hair. The fact he could not see the captain was bothering Billy because he could not see if he was lying.
“Captain,” Billy started exasperated, not unkind. “They are pirates. The chances to meet a blind man on board is more likely to happen than not. There are several even.”
Flint did not continue his sentence. He sighed and said, “What I meant is: did you see a man with a blind eye and a scarred face? Blond, blue eyes?”
Billy frowned as he thought about it. They knocked him out from behind the cowards, but he woke up briefly when they brought him on board. Maybe Flint was right. He did see a man with ugly scarring on his face as if he had been burnt.
“I might have seen him?” Billy volunteered.
A jerky movement from Flint’s side made Billy groaned in displeasure. His wrists hurt so much; it almost felt like somebody was spreading salt on his wounds.
“Careful,” he reprimanded through gritted teeth.
Flint moved his hands backwards and Billy closed his eyes in relief.
“You told me there were rumours about me associating with another crew, didn’t you?”
Billy suddenly opened his eyes, heart beating loudly in his chest.
He heard a thump on the pole.
“I think this is them. I refused to partner with them. They were… are,” Flint corrected. “a bunch of children with their first ship. They’re dangerous. Loyalty doesn’t mean anything to them. Greed however does.”
“Like any good crew on these damned seas,” Billy commented, tired. Flint talked about loyalty and greed like he knew the difference. For a long time, the crew of the Walrus had been loyal to their captain but greed took over. Not even Billy could say whether he still felt loyal to Flint.
“No, it’s not the same. They’re not…”
Did he want to say “us”? Billy wondered.
“They’re after gold more than anything.”
And you’re not? With the crazy pursuit of the Spanish Galleon, greed seemed to be the only incentive, he thought darkly.
When he did not say anything, he felt Flint shifting and taking Billy’s hand into his own.
His calloused hand sent shivers through Billy’s body. There was this sudden want churning in his belly. He reminded him of all the days he thought his admiration was only that. But when the secrets challenged it, something else tugged at Billy’s gut. When loyalty started to flicker, something else surged. Billy closed his eyes and breathed deeply through his nose to try and calm himself.
He could not even put into words what he felt. He was not sure he wanted to.
It had not been the time then; it was not the time now. It might never be the time.
“I’m sorry.” Flint murmured. He removed his hand after what felt like hours to Billy.
“Billy?” He called, a note of worry in his voice.
“A–aye, I… fine.” The younger man stuttered. If Flint found his reaction peculiar, he did not say a word.
A tense silence fell.
They did not talk until one of the men brought them food. Well, it was obviously leftovers or rotten food. Their meal consisted of bread, stew which smelt badly, and an apple half eaten by maggots.
“Thanks,” Billy said sarcastically. “How are we to eat with our hands bound?”
“Maybe you can try with your mouth, lad,” the man sneered.
“Hey!” Flint suddenly said. “Your problem is with me, not him.”
“Oh, no, Captain,” the man said with disgust, turning around to face the man. “He’s not here by mistake.”
He smiled, showing his rotten teeth.
“Try to eat. You’ll need it for later.”
The man left them alone. Billy clenched his jaw. His suspicions were true; he was a pressure point. He was the one they were going to use against Flint.
Billy tensed as adrenaline and fear started to course through his veins.
“Alright, we need to escape,” Flint whispered.
“How do we do this? There is a whole crew on the ship, we can’t fight them all off.”
“No need to.”
“I knew you were a daredevil, Captain but I didn’t know you were insane.”
“Maybe I am?” Flint simply answered. “If you still want to hear my plan, you’re welcome to.”
“Aye. Tell me.” Billy agreed in the end. It would be childish not to listen to his plan. The captain had a knack for pulling off seemingly impossible tasks.
“We’re not on the sea, that means–” Flint started.
“How do you know that?”
“We didn’t move since I’ve been brought on board…”
“Are you sure?” Billy asked, frowning.
“Yes,” Flint replied harshly. “Were you not a pirate a few weeks ago?”
Billy closed his mouth, hurt by the words despite himself. The captain sighed and shook lightly his hands.
“Billy, you are still here?”
Billy laid his head against the pole and hummed in confirmation.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be harsh. I’m… frustrated.”
He must be, Billy thought, if he was apologising. Again.
“So am I,” he interjected. “I accept your apology. Don’t forget I’m in the same situation as you. Don’t treat me like a child.”
Flint did not answer and Billy wanted to sigh. He stopped himself because he knew how susceptible the captain could be.
“So what is that plan of yours?” He asked to prompt the captain to talk. They needed a plan before their situation worsened like it certainly would.
“The ship is ashore,” Flint said gruffly, sounding unhappy and reluctant. “It means there is a small crew taking care of the ship. The quartermaster won’t be coming back. I know he’s in one of the brothels.”
“Only the lads are staying, the inexperienced,” Billy deducted.
“Exactly. When they are coming back to bring our second meal, it’ll be our cue to act.”
“How? We’re tied up.”
He could not remove the unbelievable note in his voice.
Flint sighed as if Billy did not trust him enough. At one point, it had been Billy’s job to challenge Flint’s decisions. The captain seemed to have forgotten that.
“They are young, reckless and stupid. They didn’t search me, so they didn’t see my knife.”
Billy could hear a smile in his voice.
At least, he knew they had a chance to escape.
“Can you reach it?” Billy asked.
“I’m trying,” Flint said, his voice straining with effort. He let out a few curses. Billy heard boots scraping on the floor.
“Damned seas. I wish– I wish I had– damn.”
Clothes bristled and shuffled. He felt Flint’s movement on his hands.
“Are you okay?” Billy asked when he heard a thump and the captain sigh.
“Fine. This is harder than I thought.”
He mumbled something that sounding like “not as young as well.”
Billy pressed his lips together to avoid laughing. Flint would not take it kindly, he hated being mocked.
“’So…” he started.
“I’m going to get it, I swear,” Flint said with determination as if he was facing an enemy. “Can pull your arms higher toward me? I’ll have a bit more leeway.”
“Of course, Captain.”
Billy straightened his arms backward as much as possible. He was already feeling the strain on his limbs. Flint grunted something and tugged on their wrists making Billy wince. A few seconds later, Flint slumped on the pole and the boatswain let a sound of relief.
“Did you get it?” Billy asked.
Flint hummed in agreement. Something clunked on the floor and Billy turned his head to see the small knife sitting next to his hand.
“Come on, grab it,” Flint ordered. Pettily, Billy wanted to say no but he simply rolled his eyes and took the knife between his two fingers. He expertly turned the tool upside down to put the blade’s cutting edge on the rope.
“I’m starting cutting,” Billy warned.
The captain grunted his acknowledgement and the boatswain began the work. Luckily, the pirates did not used the thickest rope. He accidentally nicked his skin. After a while, his fingers started to cramp and sweat, making holding the knife more difficult.
For what it seemed hours, Billy finished cutting the rope around their left wrists.
“Finally,” Flint commented. Billy let down the knife and brought back his arm to his chest. Even the slight touch of his shirt hurt him. His skin was streaked with red, swollen lines and cuts.
Vibration on his other wrist told him Flint was cutting the other rope. As soon as Billy was free, he carefully massaged his wrists. He rolled his shoulders and stood. His legs felt weak for a few seconds. He walked a little bit and turned around. Flint got up as well and was watching him with an undecipherable expression on his face.
“Billy, shout for help.”
“Why would I do that?”
“To lure the man.”
“Why? We just need on the deck.”
“I need a weapon. A stick won’t hold if we have to fight. It’s also more discreet if we punch here.”
“Aye, Captain,” Billy said, understanding Flint’s logic.
“I’ll take great pleasure in punching him.”
“You’re not the only one.”
Billy felt better. He trusted Flint and he could not wait to get away from this ship. He looked at the food, longing.
“What’s with the face, huh?” Flint asked.
“Nothing. I’m just…”
“Hungry.” Flint completed with a smirk.
Billy rolled his eyes. He was a big man, he needed to eat.
“Come on, let’s lure the man, I know you can do it.”
Flint winked and went back to his side of the pole. Billy felt his cheeks heating up. Hopefully, the darkness hid this embarrassing reaction. Billy went back to the pole and sat down. Flint covered their wrists with the remains of the ropes. The man needed to believe they were still bound.
“Go on, Billy.” Flint encouraged smugly. “Go on, scream.”
Billy sighed and started screaming as loud as he could. He stopped to see if they heard anything.
Suddenly, they heard heavy steps scrambling above them. The door opened with a bang and soon enough a man approached them. He walked with a limp, his right foot scraping on the ground.
He stopped in front of the food left untouched. He pushed lightly the plate with his foot and sniffed, an ugly twist to his mouth.
“So you didn’t eat.”
Neither Billy or Flint answered. The man looked at them silently. Without warning, he kicked the plate toward Billy. It landed on his neck; stew splashed over his shirt, dripping down his arm and back.
Surprised and annoyed, Billy frowned and said between his gritted teeth, “Don’t you dare.”
The man snarled and stomped toward Billy. He seemed ready to beat him. Billy tensed, his shoulders taut. If the man threatened him, no matter what Flint would say, he would defend himself. As the man arrived in front Billy, Flint stood, went behind him and struck him on the back of the head with a wooden stick. The man went down with a cry of pain. Billy stood and joined Flint. The man was covering his face with his hands.
“Please,” he begged. “Don’t–” He sucked a breath.
“Don’t what?” Billy asked sadistically, towering the whimpering man.
“Come on, let’s not waste time.” Flint intervened. “Just knock him out, take his gun, and we’ll be on our way.”
Flint tried to smother the smile on his lips but Billy saw it.
Billy looked at the man who was now crouching down in front of him.
“No, please!” the man pleaded, his hands up.
Billy did not wait to punch him. The man went out like a light.
“Mr. Bones, after you,” the captain invited, bowing mockingly.
Billy rolled his eyes but obeyed.
He heard Flint’s steps behind him and smiled.
This felt like home.