Chapter Four

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Sall went ignored and unfed for two days. His sleep was broken by hunger and the swills of bilgewater washing up and down the deck from the ship's rolling movement. The constant noise, too, kept him from restful sleep. The crew was rowdy now they were back on home seas, where no navy would follow them, still riding on the success of their victory against the Red. For those first two days they drank and sang and caroused long into the night.

There were a few other cells down in the hold. Only one other was occupied. He was an old man who must have been there for several weeks. His skin was pale and tinged bilgey green, his chest concave and hollow, and the thin crescent left of his hair hung grey and thin from a balding crown. He was chained with his wrists above his head and said nothing to Sall. He only stared numbly at the floor.

The irons between his legs were half a yard in length. On the first day of his imprisonment he measured his cell, judging it to be barely over a metre square, by making four steps from corner to corner. He did not think he could rush his captors when they came for him in four short steps. He studied the iron for rust, wear or bad welds he might be able to snap. He found nothing that could help.

Several hours after that, he asked the other prisoner, 'You've been down here a while?' and received no response. There wasn't much light, besides what came through cracks in the planks from the decks above, but over time his eyes adjusted to the murk.

By the second day he was fighting a twisting stomach, spending his time watching an unlit oil lantern swing from its ceiling hitch between the rows of cells. He would shut his eyes and count the number of swings the lamp would make and guess its position when he opened them. He listened. Swing, swing swing. Three, swinging left. He opened his eyes, and was correct. It was a boring game, but it was better than scratching at the itches that came with the fetid bilgewater or listening to the rumbles of his stomach. He played for three hours, and then they came to feed him.

The hatch above the ladders opened and light poured in. Sall blinked at the bright lantern. Three pirates descended the ladder and swaggered down the line of cells, boots splashing in the bilgewater.

One of them tossed him half a loaf of old bread and some sharp, crumbly cheese through the bars of the cell. Sall caught the bread, but the cheese landed in the water. He picked it out and shook it off. He'd had worse.

'You're fighting today,' a pirate said. He produced a key from the belt on his waist.

Sall chewed on a morsel, not taking his eyes off the key. 'Fighting every day.'

The middle pirate was dressed darkly. He spun a gaffhook in his hands and stepped forward, readying the hooked end low. He gave a nod to the pirate next to him, who produced a key.

The pirate with the key, dressed in a filthy orange corduroy waistcoat, inserted the key in the lock. Sall did not take his eyes off him. He watched Sall closely. The one with the gaff let a toothy smile spread across his lips. They were silent for the sound of the key in the lock.

As it clicked over the ragged man came alive. His eyes snapped open, his pupils narrowing into wild pinpricks at his chance at freedom. He lunged against the chains. He strained against them, his arms pinned back, gnashing his teeth such that saliva foamed and flicked out of his mouth.

He screamed at the pirates. 'Take me! Take me, I'll fight! Take me, let me die!'

The pirates were startled. Now was his chance. Sall sprang at the door, but as the pirate yanked it open he also stepped aside. Sall crashed into nothing, sprawling in a wash of bilge. The salty, stale water shot up his nostrils and sent him spluttering. The one with the hook circled him and brought the hook into his leg chains. He darted back, flipping Sall on his back.

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