Napoleon: The Captain

huntfornapoleon

The Captain

As Constance emerged from the ship’s hold, a gale swept her brown hair over her eyes.

“Left,” a man called from the bow. “Pull left, you blind codger.”

She pushed her hair back and scanned the ship: Creedy stood on the quarterdeck, yanking the wheel in silence. Normally, he would have severed the other man’s tongue with a sharp reply. Constance rushed to meet him.

“Creedy, what’s happening?” she asked, lowering her head against the wind. The skirt of her frock coat whipped her legs.

“Lost your eyes to the wind, have you?” he asked. The irises of his eyes were clouded and shifted toward her voice. “Make sure that piece of filth Pisador is still in the hold.”

“He’s there,” she said. But I had to untie him. Her gaze shied away from him, toward the wind, and over the main deck. Half of her crew was bunched around the mainmast. Overhead, men climbed the ratlines. Above them, others recklessly hung from the crosstrees. Both groups fought to keep the wind-gashed topsail attached to its yard.

Constance left Creedy at his position and climbed down to the main deck. A delicate-framed man struggled to pry the main topmast’s halyard from around the mainstay. Another man, hunched and grey, stood beside him.

“Why did no one reef the sails?” she asked.

“Because I’m not a sailor,” the slight one said, fighting the twisted ropes. “I’m a naturalist.”

Constance knew Sanctuary did not care who did her trimming– Creedy had said as much, and his words had yet to fail her.

“Angel Shades, Rosy Underwings… my interest is in moths. Not rope, not sails, not ships,” he said, shaking the rope.

“Stop!” Constance frowned; the tangled lines were beginning to fray.

“Just a doctor, myself,” the old man said with a shrug.

“Well.” Constance slid her trembling hands into pockets. “I advise you get your doctoring tools ready. You might have a chance to prove it.”

“Chance?”

She walked away, but the doctor trailed her.

“You’re the captain. Why can’t you fix this? It’s your responsibility; none of us asked to be here.”

She tried to ignore him while she walked. All she wanted was a moment alone. A single moment to think.

Save the stays and you’ll save the ship. But how?

“It won’t unravel itself, you know,” the naturalist called after her.

“Christ’s sake,” Creedy said. “Just cut the damn thing. We can afford to lose one sail if we’re as close as it sounds.”

Constance moved starboard to look beyond the sails. He was right; the snow-covered ground seemed to wink and coax the sun from behind the clouds. They were less than 20 minutes away.

Her eyes roamed past the clipped, icy shore of Greenland. It was all a blur of white, and mountain ridges were only visible due to the shadows they cast. Constance took her pendant in hand, fingers running along the gilt. Soon, its small, arcane marks would lead her to la vara de centurias— the Rod of Centuries– and then… then, she would restore everything.

“Cut the halyard,” she said, and let the wind sweep her away. Somewhere, beneath the sheets of ice, laid her happiness.

“Easy,” a voice warned.

Constance froze. Bernard was supposed to stay in the hold– that was part of the agreement. If Creedy heard his voice…

“You go easy,” the moth man said, sawing away at the rope. “I’d like to get off this forlorn boat sometime soon.”

Constance looked at the line being cut, following its spiral trail to the height of the mainmast. Nerves shot a tremor down the length of her spine. That line supported the mainmast… He was cutting the mainstay, and the halyard was already frayed.

“…Is that Bernard?” Creedy said.

“Bernardo,” the Pisador said.

“Wait!” She stretched out a hand, but it was too late.

The topstay snapped and shot up to the sky, taking the halyard with it. The mast groaned as it leaned forward, its looming sails draping a shadow over the ship. It divided the crew, sending them starboard and port, and aimed for the quarterdeck– for Creedy.

Her limbs felt as stable as a ribbon in a breeze.

The mast slammed beside him, all 400 pounds of it ripping through the main deck and shoving the stern into the dark, glacial waters. The deck slipped from under her feet, and her breath escaped her lungs. The prow reached for the sky, its angelic figurehead ready for flight.

Her body slammed flat against the wood. As she slid toward the quarterdeck, the canopy of sails provided her funeral shroud. Her hands slapped against the deck, searching. They found a loose line of rigging and seized it.

The rope blazed through her hands, searing a path down her palms. She gripped it tighter, hissing through her teeth until she jerked to a stop.

A handful of men tumbled down the deck. They hit the side of the quarterdeck and rolled off into the dark sea. Constance clutched the rope and looked away; the rest of the crew clung to shrouds, the fallen mast, anything.

“Creedy?” she called, but there was no reply.

She closed her eyes, fighting back tears. Creedy had been the only reliable thing in her life for the past five years.

First my parents. Then Pilar. Now, Creedy. I can’t do this alone. Tears slipped past her chin. She could feel the stern slowly rising, leveling the ship, but she was lost without that blind drunkard.

“Hey. Little girl. Stop crying already,” Bernard said from above, a fallen line coiled around his limbs.

“Go to hell, Bernard,” she said.

“It’s Bernardo. Ber-nar-do.”

Constance looked away. What did he know of loyalty? Pilar once told her that every Pisador had a clan: Bernard had none. She pressed her head against the rope, overwhelmed. Bernard cared for no one but himself, and now she was stuck with him.

“Constance,” a voice called from below.

She looked toward the voice, a smile breaking past her tears. Creedy was alive– barely– clutching the edge of the stern as it rose out of the water.

“Wouldn’t mind being on the ship,” he said, shivering. “If that’s alright by the captain.”


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