The Squall

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The Squall

Lightning lit up the night sky showing the low canopy of clouds overhead. The sailors of the White Star looked up from their appointed tasks. “Seems awful close, aye?” Pete never got a chance to be heard as he was cut off by the crack of thunder. Mordechai ben Avraham lifted an eyebrow at the noise, but then returned to his sleep-like state at the helm.

Jamie Muir, still in his nightcap, stormed onto the deck. “Auch! Mordechai! What in the…” Lightning flashed across the sky followed close by a thunderclap that sounded like metal being torn apart. “Mordechai!” Jamie yelled over the increasing noise of the rising wind. “Snap out of it man! What are ye deaf? MORDECHAI!"

“Ma?” Mordechai asked as he lifted his head from its comfortable spot on the helm.

“Looks like we’re a headed straight into the mouth of a squall! Don’t tell me you were actually asleep at the…”

“I wasn’t!” Mordechai retorted, “I was just thinking…”

Jamie dropped his eyes for a moment, but quickly regained his composure, “Aye, I cunna sleep either, but we’re in for some trouble.”

Mordechai gave his friend Jamie a curt nod, “time to wake the Captain.”

“Aye, Aye!” and with that Jamie ordered the nearest sailor to ring the bell as he charged below decks to stir up the crew.

Captain Lot Ramirez sat in his quarters cleaning out the bowl of his pipe as he had done five times before. By now the tobac was starting to make him sick. He heard a crash of thunder. “Seems rather close… Mordechai must be playing the storm to get more of a push out of it.” He tapped the pipe on his boot and after a half-hearted inspection he placed it on its stand. He picked up the pistol that sat on his trunk and examined it. The pistol had a brass barrel with an ivory grip. He started to pick up the oil rag, but stopped and set them both down. Sitting on the edge of his bed he placed his chin in his hands. “It’s just not the same without…” The second crack of thunder charged overhead, though Captain Lot paid it no heed.

“Wake up ye lazy dogs!” Jamie yelled as he stalked through the crew quarters turning over hammocks of the men who weren’t fast enough to the waking. Crewmen leaped up and pulled on their shirts. “On the decks or you’ll be sleeping in Davy Jones’ locker!” He had nearly reached the back of the crew quarters when he pulled up short. There, framed in the doorway, stood Magdelene van den Velde with a satchel on her hip, shaking and inspecting the contents of a small bottle. As the ship began to pitch, she lightly leaned against the doorframe then righted herself with ease.

“Lass! This be yer first time in a storm, shooldna ya be gettin’ seasick by now?”

“Here, drink this,” she said handing him the small bottle, ”You’re going to need it as the storm gets worse. I would have made more, however, I was... distracted.”

Jamie gave her a concerned look. He opened his mouth to speak but was cut short by the sound of a boatswain’s whistle heard over the bussle of sailors readying to action.

“ALL HANDS ON DECK!” a lady’s voice intoned, followed by another blast of the whistle.

“That be Mariam, I be thankin’ ye lass. Ye shoold be stayin’ below decks. This squall be not fit fer man ner beast!”

“I’ll go to where I am needed,” was all Magdelene said as she brushed past Jaime on her way to the steps of the storm beaten deck.

With a quick knock, Mariam Albarran burst into the Captain’s quarters. “Captain, we need ye on decks!” Captain Lot grabbed his coat and hat and tossed the ivory handled gun to Mariam. Mariam turned it over in her hands before giving an inquisitive look to her Captain.

“Been meanin’ to give it to ye, but never found the right time.”

Mariam’s brows began to knit, but a realization came to her she only closed her eyes and nodded shoving the gun into her belt.

Lot tucked his hat down and made his way for the door, but before leaving he picked up a locket on his dresser opened it, and kissed it, closed it then placed it back on the dresser.

“Let’s go!” he exclaimed as he hurried out the door. Mariam turned to let the great captain pass, but then looked back. It seemed that the dresser had been jostled and the locket lay on the floorboards, open. She picked up the locket and began to close it, but before it was closed she noticed a portrait within. The face of Lady Caterina di Cellini smiled back at her. Mariam finished closing the locket, gently set it back on the dresser, then hurried off to join the Captain on decks.

Captain Lot Ramirez strode onto the deck of his ship and a few sailors saluted as he passed. “Forget that! We have work to do!” He turned to the large sailor known as Pelyon. “Pel, go down below and seal off all the hatches save one.”

“Aye sir!” and Pelyon set to the task, first heading straight to his beloved galley to secure things there. “Looks like we won’t be having any of my midnight-flapjacks tonight.”

The rain was coming down hard and there was not a dry shoulder on deck. The waves began wash up and over the sides. Lot ran up the stairs and grabbed hold of the wheel that was nearly getting the best of Mordechai ben Avraham. “My friend,” Captain Lot had to shout to be heard over the wind, “this isn’t like you at all!”

“I do not know what happened.” Mordechai said while wiping the rain from his eyes, “I was just...”

Lot nodded the answer away, “I understand, now lets get this ship under control!” Both men pulled at the wheel to straighten the ship’s path.

Again and again, lightning flashed overhead accompanied by a heart pounding thunder.

All of a sudden, a wave hit the White Star giving it a mighty heave. Sailors held to what they could or flailed through the air. Wee Pete was pitched over the rail and hung on for dear life with only one hand! Dylan, the able-bodied powder monkey, quickly reached over the rail and hoisted his mate back onto the deck.

“Blast!” Mariam cursed herself for not thinking of it sooner. “Where are the lifelines!?!” she screamed at the top of her lungs, “Every man should have a lifeline attached to him. NOW!!!” and she pounded the rail with her fist to drive the point home. The crew scurried quickly to the task. She gripped tight to the upper deck rail “How could they have forgotten?” she thought, “This was never a problem before...”

Lightning flashed again, followed quickly by an enormous blast of thunder. The sea threatened to overtake and capsize the noble ship but the crew doggedly fought against the raging storm. Each man was needed and Mariam saw to it that their skills were used to their utmost.

Captain Lot looked up from stuggling with the wheel to see the progress of his brave sailors. A lightning flash revealed that the topsail had come unfurled as the sail had been pulled out and most of the lines had snapped in the wind. I was something he had feared. He would have to send a man up there to let loose the sail or the entire ship would be blown over in the wind. He exchanged a look across the wheel at Mordechai.

"Go!" Mordechai growled.

"You'll never hold it alone!" Lot yelled above the wind.

"I'll hold," said Mordechai through grit teeth.

"But..." stammered the captain.

"I'll hold! Now, GO!"

Lot loosed his side of wheel, the ship pitched slightly, but Mordechai set himself and righted it quickly.

The captain signaled Mariam to assemble the crew. Mariam gave a blast of her whistle and the crew gathered close.

“This is hard to say, but we are going to need one brave soul to somehow get to the top of the mast and cut off the sail. There be not any shame if yer too afraid.” Most of the crew cast their eyes to the soaked deck.

Marcos de la Cruz looked at his fellow mates and frowned. He stepped up and raised his hand, which was still shackled to the other. “I’ll go,” he said in a stern voice.

The crew began to grumble things of “prisoner” or “lowly powder monkey.”

“Good Marcos. Jamie, take those shackles off,” the Captain ordered.

Mariam produced the key from her belt and handed it to Jamie, who unlocked the iron cuffs that encircled Marcos’ wrists. “Now don’t ye...”

“I won’t.” was all Marcos said.

Jamie looked at him and gave him a satisfied nod. “All we need now is a way to get ye up there!”

“We can use this line to hoist him up!” shouted Magdelene over the storm.

“Then all’a we need is a strong man to pull!” Marcos exclaimed, but quickly covered his mouth. The crew was hushed and all looked to their Captain. Lot tightened his jaw, he did not lose his composure, but to all assembled the anguish was clear on his face.

Dylan strode forth, “I’ll pull the rope!”

“We’ll all pull the bloody rope,” Jaime answered with a smile.

“In that case, I shall also pull,” said Magdelene

“Here Marcos, I have something for you,” said Magdelene as she opened a bottle and poured the contents into his mouth not giving him time to complain. “That should help you with any vertigo.”

Mariam pulled tight to secure the line to Marcos’ waist. Then she grabbed hold of his overcoat and put her eyes in close. “Now listen to me powder monkey. All you have to do is cut the three lines still holding the sail. Hold fast and don’t look down, I don’t want to lose another crew member today” She then lifted him up as the stalwart crew began to pull.

In no time Marcos was at the top of the mast and holding tight. The cold wind was biting at his rain soaked shoulders and he shivered violently. “Pull’a yourself together now Marcos.” He took one step and lost his footing. The crew gasped as they watched the spectacle from below. Marcos pulled his wayward leg up and onto the rope and inched his way down the yard. When he loosed the first line the crew shouted! “Easy does it, Marcos!” he reminded himself

Marcos took two more steps and deftly cut the next flapping line. “This is getting easy,” he thought. He reached for the next line, but came up short. Something had stopped him. He reached with all his might but he was held fast by the lifeline that had him tethered to the ship’s mast. He climbed onto the arm of the mast and pulled at the rope, reaching for the last line, but he was still far too short.

Captain Lot shook his head and shouted at him, “Marcos! Get down from there! Ye’ve done enough!” but Mordechai grabbed his arm to stop him.

“No. We steel need him to loose that tie or we’ all dead. Look!”

Lot looked up to the arm of mast to see that Marcos had untied his lifeline and was now standing on the arm. Lot drew in a breath and held it.

Marcos stood as still as he could and tried to remain calm. “Calm’a down Marcos, calm down. E’verything should be fine. What did Giacomo always say? Take little steps. Three little ones are better than one large’a one. Lift’a your toe first and stay on’a the balls of your feet...” Marcos took the first tentative step forward as the Weapons Master had taught him. Inch by inch he made his way to the last tie. He crouched down and set the sail free to the wild cheers of the crew below. Captain Lot breathed a sigh of relief.

“I tell you he would be good!” Mordechai said as he smiled and clapped Lot on the shoulder.

“Alright Marcos!” Lot yelled, “Quit monkeying around and get down here.”

Marcos smiled and waved...

Suddenly a bright flash of lightning struck the mast that Marcos stood on. The shock took and threw Marcos into the water! Lot ran to the rail and peered through the rain. “Marcos! MARCOS!”

Mariam yelled to the crew “MAN OVERBOARD! EVERYONE TO THE RAIL!” The crew obeyed but there was nothing to see through the heavy rain.

* * *

The waves were still high and capping over into a white top from the wind. Clinging to a bit of floatsom and to dear life, Marcos was tossed over the rolling waves. “Seems I’ve lost twice in one day... Talk about bad luck.” He coughed and choked on seawater. He was getting tired fast. “So this is’a how it all ends,” he muttered to himself.

He saw something... Could it be his imagination? There in the waves splashing about was undoubtedly a figure. “Who would be fool enough?!” He thought until the top of the Captain’s head could be seen struggling with the waves. “You complete and utter fool.” Marcos said under his breath as he swam for the Captain with all his might, dragging the piece of floatsom with him. He arrived just in time to see Lot drop under the water. Marcos sucked in a deep breath and dove under. Luckily the Captain had not sunk far and Marcos grabbed him and pulled him to the surface.

“Here hold onto this” Marcos pulled the floatsom (it looked like a piece of the rail) toward the Captain. Lot was grateful for the help, as he was exhausted from thrashing about in the sea. “Why did you do it? You know you’re a terrible swimmer! Why didn’t you send someone else?”

“He... he wasn't there....” the Captain said spitting some of the seawater.

Marcos nodded in understanding. He grabbed for the back of the Captain’s shirt to pull him up further and found that Lot was tethered to a line. He looked up to see a large rudder and the letters that read “White Star” on the back. “Looks like we will’a be safe onboard soon.”

“Good. I hate swimming.”

* * *

Once the sail was free the ship only needed to wait out the rest of the storm. Though the danger had passed the crew still looked downtrodden. The last of the blankets Big-Pete had passed out went to the Captain and Marcos.

“I just...” Mariam began, “It struck so suddenly I didn’t have time to prepare. I’m sorry everyone, about the lifelines, I didn’t remember without...” She bit her lower lip.

Mordechai put his arm around her and held her close. Magdelene leaned her head on Mordechai’s other shoulder. The crew all huddled together more for comfort than for warmth.

Marcos looked up from the diagram he had been carving of an oval cut with a line at the side of the base, “So, what are we to do? The ship, I mean. It's as if we've all been wounded....”

Captain Lot stood up and surveyed his crew. He lightly nodded his head, “All wounds heal in time, my friends. We will time.”

Lilya gave a bittersweet smile, and then lifted her voice, sounding clear notes against the clouded skies