My head throbbed and I groaned, blinking rapidly to adjust to the light. Daytime, I’ve been out for so long. My thoughts immediately went to Grace and Diana, I forced my eyes open and squinted around for them, Grace was beside me, her eyes raised to the heavens. Diana too was awake, staring blinding in front of her, her lips moving soundlessly. She’s praying.
“Grace” I whispered in our native tongue “are you alright? Did they touch you?”
She looked at me sideways and shook her head. “No they didn’t touch me”
“And Diana?” I asked again.
A small shake of the head followed, and I exhaled quietly. Thankful for that little thing.
“They’re awake!!” A sailor yelled and men poured from all parts of the ship,except the one at the wheel and the man in the crows nest.
A scruffy man walked up to us and squatted before me. I wrinkled up my nose, trying not to gag from his body odor. How do women sleep with someone that smells like this?
“So!” He started “you have been hiding away on my ship and stealing from me too.”
“Are you the Captain?” I asked stupidly and the fool smiled.
“Aye. that be me. What can I do you for?” He smiled yellowing teeth at me.
“Mercy.” Diana cried, her shrill voice loud and clear “please spare us. We won’t cause any trouble.”
“I’ve lost almost ten of my best men to your sister and her little thighstrap blade. And a couple of men are recovering from your blows” He sneered at Diana. “If you were men, I’d admire your strength. However I’ve never been one to grant mercy.”
He got up and took a swig from his tin water bottle. “PREPARE THE PLANK.”
“Nooooo!!!” Grace finally yelled but someone slapped her across the face. She kept quiet before spitting a bloodied glob of saliva in his face.
The man grimaced and motioned for something, a lot of rope was thrown to him and he started winding it about Grace’s waist; making huge knots around the ankles up to the waist leaving her hands free, then he tied Diana hands up and then me. He tied my wrists together first then connected it down to my ankles.
With a growing ache of terror in my chest, it dawned on me that he made it almost impossible for even one of us to survive, I looked at the knot and grew dizzy, it was intricate and confusing. I realized then that they won’t tie a millstone to us; our weight would be enough to pull us down. If Grace could swim, I and Diana couldn’t and so we’d all drown. I swallowed with great difficulty.
He squatted in front of us and I spied my knife in his boot. I placed my back against the mast and called to my sisters in our tongue.
“Grace, Diana. listen to me. I have a little plan, just try to stay light and follow my lead.”
“What are they saying?” A man asked, his two front teeth decaying in his mouth.
“They’re probably praying” the one in front of me said, a smug smile on his face.
Bastards, all of them and their pride. I smiled slowly, my eyes trained on his face. He inched back a little and my smile widened, he was afraid of me.
A group of poorly dressed men, likely oarsmen, hefted a plank over the side of the ship.
“Now” the Captain snarled “off with you.”
A sword swiped through the rope that bound us to the mast and he prodded our backs with the tip. We slowly got up and I feigned lost balance, tumbled into the man who held my knife, I fell at his feet noting Diana and Grace falling in my direction and he snarled, getting up and looking away, failing to see that I retrieved that which was mine.
As his stubby fingers fisted in my hair, I dropped the knife into an open palm and followed the motion. To kill him, get the knife taken away and die OR to take the knife and die eventually? I squared with him, my angry glare matching his uncertain one. Grace grunted and I turned to look, someone poked me in the back with a sword and turned to him before I walked numbly to the thick cut of wood that separated us from our watery grave. They made Diana stand first, a long strip of rope separated her from Grace then me.
“Girls,don’t panic, take as much air as you can and hold it too” I started loudly “our arms are somewhat free so we can try to free ourselves.”
“Then what?” Diana called back angrily ” try to swim? There’s no island in sight. We’d be fish food before you know it.”
“We’ll try to stay alive for as long as we can” Grace said quietly.
A yell from above made us look up, some barbarian was on a rope swinging down with his feet first, to push Diana over.
I noted that Grace’s hands were free, so I yelled. “GRACE HOLD ON!!!”
Grace wrapped her arms against the railings of the ship at the same time the man’s feet pushed Diana off the plank. Her scream of terror sent chills down my spine and I waited for the rope to stretch tautly.
“GET THEM!” the Captain screeched and I waited for the first man who tried to hit Grace, I swung at him, my blade leaving a red smile on his neck, he fell to the deck cradling his throat. More men replaced the fallen and I swiped aimlessly, making sure it kissed flesh. Grace looked at me and smiled a proud smile, holding on as tightly as she could to the railing. Men fell about me, my hands sticky with blood. I yelled savagely with every hit I made.
The breaking of wood made us pause, the ship turned so suddenly that an on deck cannon rolled from the other side of the ship to ours, it smashed through the railings and Grace slid down the plank yelling. I buried my hand in the nearest persons chest, twisting my knife in as I fell, the thin man fell with me, his blood coating my clothes, the boat steadied and I dragged my hand down, exposing his insides. I slammed both hands into his chest, feeling the tiny bones cave under me, the rope at my feet tugged and someone pulled the knife from me and kicked the side of my head. With one last burst of energy I grabbed the man’s still beating heart and wrenched it out of his chest.
As I went down, there was a streak of blood marking my exit and the look of horror on their faces.
To who is listening, let it be that I prayed for life and you failed me this one time.
I held my breath and the heart beating in my palms, waiting for the waves to welcome my body.