Arekan kicked out his leg and clocked the intruder in the jaw. The man staggered back, sword in hand, but he did not fall. His gaze fixed on Arekan with a murderous expression.
“I’ll kill you,” the pirate growled.
“Better men have tried,” said Arekan with more bravado than he felt. “But you are welcome to give it a go.”
The man’s face turned a beet red as he pushed himself toward Arekan, his sword pointed toward the nineteen year old. As the man’s sword came within Arekan’s reach, the youth stepped to the man’s left, away from the man’s dominant arm, whipped around in a full three hundred and sixty degree turn, and slashed man’s torso. The man halted in his tracks, and then tottered falling to the deck groaning and bleeding. As miserable as the man looked and sounded Arekan could have aimed higher and severed the man’s neck.
However, he’d rather not kill a man. He hadn’t had to yet.
Two down, thought Arekan.
He crept to the back of the first stack of wooden crates closest to him and crouched down. Arekan was more than earning his pay today.
Angry curses reached his ears when the man’s confederates found him bleeding on the deck.
“I thought you said they were scattered through the ship.”
“Aye. That’s what the sensors showed.”
“Apparently not. Split up. Find him. He’s got to be close.”
After sheathing his sword he pulled himself into the ventilation system to hide from the pirates that breached the airlocks. He was skinny enough to do so. Moving from compartment to compartment he found four others that must have come through another airlock. Two were on the bridge with the captain, and another two roaming the ship seeing what they could pilfer. He found those two in the galley.
Arekan pulled himself back to the grate on the other side of the hatch leading to the cargo hold. Dropping to the ground he sealed the hatch with his security code. They would have to work hard to get through the hatch now once they found they were locked in.
Arekan spun and whipped out his blade. Seeing the steel the man turned and ran back up the hallway, calling for his confederate.
Cursing, Arekan sped after the man, and being much younger and with longer legs, soon gained on him. He jumped the man and pulled him down. He bashed the man’s face into the deck.
“You can die, or you can join your friends in the hold. Which is it?” said Arekan.
“Hold,” said the man.
Arekan hauled him up. “Good choice.”
Just then, the man’s partner showed up, a large nasty looking man who was eating something he stole from the galley. Arekan stiffened and put his sword to his prisoner’s neck.
“Hold it, or your friend gets it,” said Arekan.
“I donna care about ‘im,” the pirate growled.
“Oh, right. Pirate,” said Arekan. He shoved his prisoner hard at the other man. As they collided, Arekan pulled his knife from its sheath strapped to his back and tossed it. It struck the large pirate in the eye, and he fell writhing on the decking. Arekan hauled up the other pirate, and pulled him to the hatch of the cargo hold, opened it and shoved him in. He shut it quickly, and then went to the other man who lay groaning on the ground.
“The hold, or my sword. Make a choice.”
The man growled but stumbled to his feet.
“Hold it is,” said Arekan. He grabbed the man and pushed him to the hold door. As quickly as he could he opened the hatch, shoved him in and shut it while the other pirates tried to crowd the exit shouting.
That was six and with two to go. But those two were the trickiest ones holding the Captain captive. There was only one thing to do.
Arekan scrambled into the ventilation system once again and pulled himself forward through the shaft. Looking through the ventilation grill he spied the two men guarding the captain and the navigator. He pushed the grill forward and spilled through, landing on one man. Arekan slammed that pirate’s head into the deck. The captain moved pushing the other man to the wall, and shoved his knee into the man’s groin. As the man groaned, Arekan clutched the intruder’s shirt and rammed his fist into his jaw. He fell to the deck.
“Where’s the others?” Etharin asked.
“Locked in the cargo hold,” said Arekan.
“Excellent,” said Etharin. “Cripin,” he said indicating the navigator, “help our blade here escort these two.”
“Aye,” said Cripin.
Soon the two pirates joined their crew mates.
“What happens now? We can’t leave them there.”
“Don’t worry. We won’t. We flush ‘em,” the navigator said.
“Pirate’s luck, kid. Them that are unlucky enough to get caught are spaced. Etharin has a “take no prisoners” policy. Captain should be taking care of that right now. And after that we’ll see what we can salvage from their ship.”
Arekan’ s jaw set as he watched the pressure gauge on the hatch controls drop to zero.
“Yeah,” said Arekan. Privately he thought Etharin and his crew were no better than the men that were just spaced. “Pirate’s luck.”
“Cripin,” said a voice that boomed over the ship’s communication system.
“When the hold is re-pressurized take Thad into it.”
“Yes, sir,” said Cripin.
“What’s this about?” said Arekan.
Cripin gave him a look of pity.
“You disobeyed orders, didn’t you? Time to answer for that. And since there is no place to run on this tub, I suggest you get it over with.”
“Get what over with?” With the way Cripin looked at him, like he was a lamb about to be slaughtered made Arekan uneasy.
But Cripin didn’t answer, in fact didn’t look at Arekan until the pressure gauge read green. Then he opened the hatch and gave Arekan a shove inside. They stood there looking at each other until Grokin walked in, followed by the crew. Arekan’s eyes flicked to the whip in his hands.
The first mate stood in front of Arekan with a scowl.
“On this ship, Captain’s orders are obeyed. You didn’t obey them, did you?”
“No,” admitted Arekan.
“Get him ready.”
“Now wait a minute,” protested Arekan as the crew advanced on him.
“It makes no difference to me,” said Grokin. “If you don’t cooperate, we’ll put you out the airlock.”
Arekan swallowed hard. His choices weren’t appealing.
“What’s the sentence?” called Grokin into the air.
“Seven lashes,” replied the captain over the intercom.
“Come,” said Obon. “Best to get it done with.”
“Yeah,” said Arekan. “People keep telling me that.”
Obon yanked Arekan’s tee shirt over his head, then yanked down his pants, while Tinnen lowered a two long chains from the beams overhead. Roughly he picked up Arekan’s arms and tied each wrist to a chain. Cook smiled an unsettling and crooked grin, while Egren scowled.
Grokin rubbed the whip across his palm, and Arekan noticed it was just a whip. It was a cat-o-nine tails. It was a nasty bit of business with long strips of leather tied off into hard balls.
“You look right pretty,” said Grokin, “strung up like that.”
“Yeah. I get that about you, Grokin. You’re one of those guys that are all talk and no action.”
“Keep talking smart, boy. It just inspires me in my work. In fact you get three more lashes for mouthing off.”
Arekan set his jaw and stared ahead.
“Well?” Arekan said as if he was impatient for what was to come. “I’m waiting.”
The first blow landed and though Arekan was used to pain, was not used to this kind of pain. It wasn’t just a strike to his body. The knots at the end of the cat-o-nine tails stung his flesh like little knives tearing his flesh.
That was the first blow.
“One,” called Grokin.
Arekan set his jaw, and grabbed the chains that held him fast. He wasn’t going to cry out or show weakness. And when they were done he was going to kill them. Every last one of the bastards.
A sear of pain flared in his lower back, the little knives shredding his flesh. His body swayed forward from the force of the strike, but he refused to show them surrender.
Another strike was to his upper back, over the first blow, but this time a few of the knots dug in under his flesh. He winced involuntarily as fire blazed in the open wounds.
Arekan imagined how he was going to kill Etharin, and then Grokin. It would be long and slow.
He heard a curious sound of a hiss of something through the air. The next strike landed on his lower back again, harder than the others, causing him to flinch. Swear words bubbled through his mind.
Four? This was only four? He was an idiot. Why did he taunt Grokin? With the captain’s sentence it would be three more and he’d be done. Now he had to endure and addition three lashes of the whip.
Another cut into his lower back. It seemed to slither wetly off his skin. Arekan figured he must be bleeding now.
Arekan held fast his jaw clenched tight and his arms shaking against the strain of standing upright.
Fire hit his back and he took an intake of breath. How far into the muscle was this cutting? Would he have any back left?
“Come on, Grokin,” said Egrin. “Enough. Leave the boy alone. He only did what he thought was right. And he did save Obon.”
“He’ll not disobey the captain again, the ungrateful sot.”
“Grokin,” appealed Egrin.
“Be quiet or you’ll be next.”
Egrin shook his head and walked out of the hold.
“Anyone else,” sneered Grokin. “too weak not to watch? Let me know now.”
Arekan’s heart hammered in his chest. He tried to breath, but moving his muscles were just too painful.
Crack! The whip snapped across Arekan’s buttocks, creating a new area of pain. It flew up his spine and burst on his brain. Strange things happened. The room became dim. He lost awareness of his surroundings.
“Make each obstacle the path.” Alteun stood in the middle of the training deck motionless. He would not raise his sword, and did not respond to any of Arekan’s provoking blandishments of his sword. Fifteen year old Arekan grew frustrated quickly.
“Master Alteun, you are the obstacle,” complained Arekan. “I’m here to learn swordsmanship, not play mind games.”
“It is not enough to be proficient with the blade. You must sharpen your mind past the sharpness of your blade. An idiot wielding a blade is still an idiot.”
“So you are saying I’m an idiot?” Infuriated he dropped his sword and flung himself at Alteun. It was an impulsive move, something his master sought to train from him. Immediately he saw he made a mistake. Alteun swept past him to pick up Arekan’s sword and with a deft turn of his body yanked Arekan’s hair to pull the teen off balance making him backward into his teacher. Alteun held Arekan’s own sword to his neck nicking the skin. Burning pain flared up as his blood welled onto his sword.
“Did I say that?” said Alteun with a slight smile. “Make the obstacle the path. Accept what is happening. It may be unpleasant, painful even, but do not turn away from what is happening. Examine it. Examine your reactions. Pain is a natural reaction of the body, but pain ends eventually.”
Arekan, in an uncomfortable position, could not speak. He could barely breathe.
“Relax into the pain. The pain is not you. You are not the pain. When it is over, you will heal.”
The next crack of whip against his flesh brought Arekan back to consciousness.
“Nine,” said Grokin.
“Nine?” Where were six, seven and eight? But his awareness caught new sources of pain, in his back and legs so they were there.
The lash was delivered more brutally than the previous nine, and Arekan’s body swayed from the impact.
Suddenly Grokin’s face was next to his. He clutched the whip bloodied with Arekan’s blood. In the slow motion of a one moment stretching into another, Arekan noticed how his blood was smeared on Grokin’s hand.
“Now boy, I hope ye learned your lesson. You will obey me and the captain, whether you like the order or not.”
Arekan turned his head slightly to meet Grokin’s eyes.
“I will kill you,” he whispered.
“That may be,” spit Grokin, “but not today.”
With a motion of his hand, Grokin signaled one of the crew members to release the chains Arekan hung from. He fell to the deck, his face hitting it with a thud. He couldn’t move his arms, or turn and he lay there in misery. His stomach roiled and he felt like puking.
Grokin’s heavy footsteps rang through the hold then receded.
“Is he gone?” someone said. Arekan was too disoriented to recognize individual voices.
“Then bring the damn thing.”
What the hell was going on now?, thought Arekan as another wave of nausea hit. Then he heard the hiss of Grokin’s snake.
The thing bobbed in front of Arekan’s eyes.
“No!” he tried to say. What in the seven hells were they trying to do? Kill him? But he couldn’t move or defend himself against the hellish thing.
Arekan felt fangs sink into his flesh spreading fire through his body. His cry of pain stuck in his throat.
The creature bobbed his head and struck again. Arekan gasped and then his body numbed.
I’m dying and there is nothing I can do about it.
The darkness swirled around him.
Go here to read Chapter 7–Hooked