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large man with scars on his arms and face, walked over to stand in front of
René. “Chain him to the mast.”
me, boy,” he said, backhanding René in the face. “Look down at the deck when I
talk to you. You’re some over-fed nobleman’s kid thinkin’ you make the rules.
I’m surprised you ain’t cryin’ for your mama. You got a mama, boy?” he asked
and laughed. When René didn’t answer, he hit him again. “I asked you a
question, boy. Don’t try my patience, cause I ain’t got none.”
when I was born,” René said, watching the man’s feet to see how he moved. He
was cataloging everything he could see out of the corners of his eyes.
worry, you’ll be seeing her soon.” The boatswain turned to walk away and then
turned back and hit René again. “I had to do that,” he said, and walked away
chained him in a way that didn’t allow him to sit, René had enough slack to
turn and see most of the ship. He was aboard an English slave ship. She was an
older carrack in design, still with the large forecastle. She had seen better
days, though. The fact that she was still on the seas suggested either a
cutthroat reputation or an experienced captain. Under the wear, the ship was
surprisingly clean, her ropes and sails newly repaired and in good order.
Second rate though she might be, she was seaworthy. This was a veteran crew,
competent in their tasks. It wouldn’t be easy getting free, and even if he
could, where would he escape to in the middle of the ocean? Don’t rush fate. One thing at a
time. Do what you can do, he heard the Maestro say. It was clear he would have
to pick a fight, and hope he could survive long enough to begin creating
allies. The next time the big boatswain walked by, René laughed.
findin’ so funny, boy?” The boatswain stuck his face within inches of René’s.
the boatswain had one leg shorter than the other, and was certain the big man
would be touchy on that point. “You walk funny, that’s all,” said René, raising
his voice. It was of no use to him if he got beat up and no one knew why.
the sound of René’s voice crashed to a complete stop. Silence reigned. René had
guessed right. Now he could only hope he would survive his insight.
stood in absolute disbelief, his face turning redder by the moment. “What did
you say?” Spittle flew from his mouth.
had turned to watch. René counted on the fact Gaspard’s agent had given the
captain a great deal of money, along with explicit instructions that didn’t
include throwing a dead boy overboard. What he didn’t know was how close to
dead the agent considered acceptable.
funny,” René said—louder this time, so there would be no mistaking it.
what a cat is, boy?” the boatswain said, clearly beyond rational thought. René
could see the veins standing out in his neck and temples, his eyes shot red
animal?” René asked.
laugh from the men standing around the mast. The boatswain took one look
around, and the laugh died.
bring me the cat. I don’t think this boy has ever seen a real one. Your
education has been sadly incomplete, boy. You’ll be thankin’ me for this. I
promise you.” The boatswain’s voice was a rough whisper.
over and handed the Cat-O-Nine-Tails to the boatswain. As he caught René’s eye,
he sadly shook his head. The cat had nine long thongs of blood-encrusted
leather dangling from a handle, knots tied along the length of each thong.
cat, boy. As you can see, it ain’t no small animal. Now, there’s a skill and a
talent to usin’ a cat, both of which I’m proud to say I have. You see, you need
to take care the thongs don’t get all stuck together with blood and skin, which
they’re wont to do. If that happens, the cat’ll take yer organs right out, and
that’s always a bad thing. So you need to run your fingers between the thongs
every couple of strokes, to keep ‘em separate. I gotta tell you—as much pride
as I take in usin’ the cat, sometimes I’m forgetful. I try to keep count, but
before I know it, I plumb forget to clean the damn thing. I surely hope that
don’t happen today.”
skill and a talent, and I will kill you with it,” René said quietly.
the boatswain paused, confusion written across his face. “Turn him around, and
chain him up. You there, strip off his shirt.”