Chapter Four

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“Yes, Captain. Please lead the way.”  If he was waiting for a reaction from her similar to last night, he’d be there a while.

Merrick was surprised by her again. She fainted like a damsel yesterday but now stood straight and didn’t take the bait. Her hair had started to come free and he was reminded of his first vision of her– Standing at the window with long hair blowing and a glaive, of all things, in her hands. She was full of fire.

His eyes were probably darkening with desire because she took a step back. Rejected, hmm? Not the first time. “Come. We must talk about these maps that were in your quarters. You will explain them, and the documents I also gathered.” He stopped hearing her footsteps behind him and turned.

She was seething. “You destroyed my ship, murdered my people, and then went through my ROOM?!?!?! Those documents are for my eyes only.” It seemed they weren’t going to make it to his quarters.

He opened a random door and dragged her with him. She needed a lesson. “GET OUT” he boomed to the few crewman sleeping in their hammocks. They scrambled outside.

He pushed her to the ground and loomed above her. “I am a pirate. I plunder. I kill. And I go into rooms and steal what I want. You have no privacy here. And you have no right to raise your voice to me. I am your Captain. You WILL discuss your plans in Ala Qitar with me young Grey.”

She swung her legs between his and twisted, knocking him down. She hopped over his body to the door but he was quicker. He grabbed at her legs, tugging her down with him. He pressed his full body against her, lining them up so she could feel his growing erection. She stilled and her face became a mask. Not the panic mixed with arousal from before and it irked him a bit.

“Oh, are we doing this again? You use sex because you are otherwise unqualified to make negotiations? I see. It’s sad. I thought you may have been educated. Ok, I guess we should just get it over with. I’ll lie here and fake scream if that’s what you want but can we speed this up? I’m a little hungry.” She spread her arms above her head, and put on her best ‘I’m bored to death’ face.

Celia was hoping he’d take the bait and get off of her. This was not the person she wanted her first time to be with. Not the loving embrace she wanted. The kiss from last night was a fluke. It was only good because of all the adrenaline. Celia was calm and calculated now.

He took the bait, shoving her from him. “I think you need some punishment for attacking me again. Though I’m starting to think you’re more than just aristocracy. This is twice you’ve surprised me. But I’m sure Avery will enjoy punishing you. Five lashes. I won’t tolerate your talking back to me. Oh, and your shirt” he ripped it in half, her makeshift bra torn in the process, “you can walk like this the rest of the day.”

Celia was again, humiliated. But this time she wouldn’t show it. “That’s fine. If you want your crew making mistakes while they ogle me. Now if we can get Avery to do your dirty work already, I’m hungry and would like to take my bath.”

His hands clenched the torn fabric of her shirt. She smiled. She’d won this battle. He stood, grabbing her arm and dragging her through the twisted hallways to the deck.

Avery appeared immediately, blocking the crew’s view of her. “Merrick, what are you doing here with her like this? The crew hasn’t seen a woman in months. It will be near impossible to control them with her on deck.” Avery made sure to whisper but Celia heard loud and clear.

She thrust her chest out and stood. Let them look. She knew that a few mistakes tying ropes could be disastrous. She could already see one kid messing up a knot while openly staring. He was nothing but a child, what was he doing here?

Merrick hated that Avery was repeating what Celia said and that his crew was staring instead of working. “If I see one knot come loose because you can’t keep your pecker in your pants I will give 10 lashes myself to the one responsible.”

Celia watched for their responses. It seemed lashes from the Captain were far worse than those from Avery. Maybe Avery was actually a softie?

She turned to him standing in front of her. “Avery. Nice to see you.”

She wanted to see his reaction and if he was also quick to temper but he stonewalled her. Only his eyes betrayed his hatred of her, or rather what she represented.

Avery pointed to the mast. “Turn around and put your arms around the mast. I will give five lashes. Do you know why?”

Celia rolled her eyes. “Is this time out for pirates? Do I know why? Really? Let’s just get it over with.” Celia was afraid but letting them run the show was not an option.

She needed to be strong. She’d never been whipped but she had gotten the belt a few times from a tutor. She was strong. She’d be fine.

Celia turned and wrapped her arms around the mast. This was the worst part. Not knowing when it was coming. She turned her head to the side and saw the boy trying to fix his mistake from before. It was too late. It was clear he didn’t know how to do the proper knot.

The first lash startled her and she yelped in pain. It was like a thousand bees had stung her and the salty wind and spray made it burn. Again. She bit her lip to keep from making another sound. Five lashes. She stood still, locking her knees to gather herself. With a deep breath she turned around smiling.

Merrick met her eyes with what seemed like a flicker of respect before he grabbed her and dragged her to his rooms. She heard Avery bellow for the crew to get back to work before the door slammed.

“Don’t make me have that happen again, Celia.” He used her name.So she had earned some respect. Now the adrenaline was fading and the pain was spreading. She wondered if she’d scar like some of the slaves she’d seen in the Eruptian country of sand and pyramids. She didn’t feel blood, just sweat and her shredded shirt sticking to her irritated skin.

Merrick felt a little bit like scum but he didn’t know why. He’d often had crew or prisoners lashed for their disobedience. It was essential to establish his dominance. And he had told her what would happen and she still tested him. If he’d let her walk all over him the crew would question him.

He didn’t know if he respected her or hated her more for not breaking under his will. Who was this woman? The lashes were harder than Avery generally did but were still red welts, no broken skin. Avery was the soft one. He should have known Avery would be harder on an aristocrat. But she brought it on herself! Why was he feeling any way about it?

“Do you like wine?” Her question brought him out of his inner battle.

“Uh, yes.” Uh?! Was he ten again? “I collect wine from each ship we sink.” Yeah, that would make her tremble. But instead she was stone faced. He wanted to turn her face to his and see something in her eyes. Her ability to block him out of her thoughts infuriated him and his voice came out rougher than usual. “Sit. We will now go over the documents. You will tell me what I want to know. I am not patient as you’ve seen. I will pour us some wine. Get talking.”

Celia sat delicately. The pain was seeping through her entire body. She had faced pain before, but this was something entirely new. Lashings. How barbaric. How could the crew respect someone with such an evil side to them? Who was Merrick to them?

She tugged on a shirt he offered her and began perusing through the documents he’d taken from her desk. The shirt was large enough to not stick to her sweating body. Merrick had very broad shoulders but a narrow waist. It was unusual for her to even notice a man’s body, but Celia was an adult now and curious about men. Just not interested in laying with them yet.

She flipped through the documents he had stolen. There was the trade agreement contract, maps of routes the missing merchant ships took, countless personal documents she wrote detailing their current voyage. None of that mattered now of course. She spotted a letter from her father she’d yet to open, saving it for after she’d met with Sheik Balin. He’d told her to open it when she felt she needed him most. Was that now? No, not in front of this baboon. She tucked it into her pants when Merrick turned to choose a wine.

Merrick knew every document he’d taken. He knew the letter from her father would be one she’d try to take. He watched her tuck it into the ruching of her pants but he needed to give her a win if he wanted her to give him information on Ala Qitar. He could always find the letter in her quarters and read the contents then if needed.

He grabbed a red wine and two glasses from his personal cabinet. This had come from a Minkerra ship so she might enjoy a familiar taste and let her guard down. He placed a full glass of dark liquid in front of her. “The wine will help ease the pain. Drink” he took a sip from her glass, “It’s not poisoned.”

She eyed him so carefully, he realized this was her as a diplomat. Celia the woman with fire was gone, this was Celia, the politician. He found himself hating that side of her.

“Captain. These maps should make sense to you already. I’m assuming you know how to read a map? These are the routes of the missing Merchant ships you have destroyed.”

He looked them over but they still didn’t make sense. He had sunk nine ships, but these were maps for twelve. Who was poaching in his territory? “Lady Grey, these are maps for twelve missing ships’ routes. I have sunken nine of Minkerra’s ships. Please explain these three to me. What were they carrying, who was on board. Tell me everything.”

Celia’s eyes widened. “That’s impossible. Exactly twelve have gone missing in just your style. No goods on the market, no slave auctions of crew. No word from anyone on board ever again. It must be another of your ships gone rogue.” Her sneer at the end told him how much glee she would take from his loss of control over his ships, but he knew better. They were a family and there was no ship who would have the audacity or support from crew to do such a thing.

He had an inkling of who it was, and she was not going to like it. “That would be impossible. We are a family and reconvene many times through the night. It would be impossible to have stolen or sunk a ship and still have the same amount of gunpowder and fire oil. My ships have not done this.”

Celia fidgeted. What could this mean? It’s known that Merrick’s pirates are the ones who destroy everything and take only what they most desire. Of course there are other pirates, but they usually sell the cargo and then auction crew as slaves. Who then? Who would be brave enough? She sipped her wine and began going through the documents more carefully. These ships were all carrying weapons to small villages along the coast.

Lately coastal villages were having trouble with slave traders and Minkerra had sent soldiers and weapons to protect them. It was always along the border with … “Ala Qitar…?”

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