Chapter Five

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“Are you saying Ala Qitar is doing this? We are in peace with them. They would never. We trade easily with them, there is no need to steal weapons, they have plenty already!”

Merrick leaned on the back legs of his chair and placed his feet on the table. It was interesting to see her in denial of such obvious facts. He sipped his wine and watched her mind work. He wanted to see her think it through, would she get to the same thoughts he had? That Ala Qitar was sinking those specific merchant ships so the villages would be unprotected and vulnerable was smart. Of course Ala Qitar seemed peaceful to outsiders. He and his crew knew better. They had rescued many from the slave auctions. Given food to the starving and beaten. The government stole much and gave little. Minkerra wasn’t much better, but at least they had demolished the slave market.

Celia drank her wine and nodded distracted thank yous as Merrick filled her glass again and again. He was watching her but that didn’t matter. She was sure that he was lying. However… it wouldn’t make sense to lie about sinking three ships when he had admitted to nine. And why hide it, she wasn’t in a place to turn him into custody. Her head was getting a bit fuzzy. How many glasses of wine had she had? Four? There were three bottles. When had this happened? He tricked her! But… he was quiet. Letting her think, not asking more questions. She stood up.

“I am unable to think clearly and wish to retire.” She held a map up one more time, unsteady on her feet. He was behind her now, arms on each side.

She realized he was bracing her but the contact made her stiffen. “Merrick…I’m not sure I believe you but I’d like to check these again in the morning.” She turned around and placed her hands on his chest, “please move. I must really lie down.” When was the last time she’d had this much wine? Never probably. His lips were stained red. There was a drop on his chin, caught in the day’s stubble. His tan skin made the droplet shine like a ruby. She caught it with her finger, licking it clean.

She was drunk, Merrick knew that. But her lips were parted and she had just touched his face and then licked her fucking finger. He pressed his arousal into her stomach. She looked down with a sort of confusion. “What? I am a man. I am aroused by you. But I will wait.” She couldn’t deny there was something there. He brushed his lips across hers.

Celia didn’t know what was wrong with her. Well, she was drunk. Ok. That was something. But he was pressing his … erection against her. She’d never met a man so bold, but then again she hadn’t met a real pirate before. When he brushed his lips against hers she knew she should pull away but he tasted like berries and smelled like the sea. She wanted just another taste.

She grabbed his hair and pulled him against her and kissed him until they were groaning and he was removing her shirt. He pulled her to his bed and clambered on top of her, crushing her with his weight and feverish lips. He was taking his time, kissing her neck, her collar bones, hands sliding to her breasts. Her mind was clouded with pleasure and red wine.

Merrick was surprised she had kissed him after his statement but then again she probably wasn’t even paying attention to his words. Her kiss had started timid but quickly turned into a desperate need to devour him. He knew what she wanted and he was more than ready, perhaps too ready, to deliver it to her. He needed to slow down before he embarrassed himself all over her stomach.

He kissed her slowly and traveled to her neck. Her nipples were grazing against his chest through his shirt and driving him wild. He paused his trail of kisses to strip off his shirt, and she was … asleep. Her lips were swollen from his kissing. Her neck red from the stubble rubbing against it. Her skin glowed in the moonlight coming from his window. His hands fell to his sides in defeat and amusement. He was experiencing many firsts with Celia.

He had always thought having his bed against the window was best because he could wake up to blue sea. Now he thought it was best because her body was so incredible in the moonlight. Her nipples were a peachy pink and beckoned to be kissed. He kissed each bud, drawing it into his mouth. More for a taste than to continue the tryst. She moaned and wriggled, wincing. Merrick slid off her and turned her to see her back. Already the welts were less bright, receding into fine red lines. Painful, but she would be ok.

Perhaps it would be better to keep her here in his bed… It would be impossible to carry her all the way to her room without touching her back and waking her. He didn’t know why he cared but this seemed best. Merrick shucked his shirts and pants. He slept naked and was not about to change that now. His erection took a while to calm itself but he was also tired and sleep came easily to him.

Celia was warm. She tried to pull the sheets off of her but felt a wiry arm instead. Merrick. Last night! She opened her eyes and saw dark eyes swirling with coppery lava. “Merrick.. I..” He pulled her closer and she realized he was completely naked. He moved her hand to his erection, “What are you doing?! Unhand me!”

His voice was heated. “Now this is different than what you wanted last night. I would say you should unhand me…” He squeezed her hand around him, sliding up and down. She wasn’t ready for this. This was too much. She thankfully realized her pants were still on, but for how long? What had she done last night? Should she tell him she’s a virgin? Would that entice him or put him off? It was really none of his business.

“Captain, I have work with Baba today. I can’t be late.”

He sighed. Merrick wanted her and he wanted her now. He knew she did too from her actions last night. He moved on top of her, wrapping her legs around his waist. His erection rubbed against her pants between her legs while his hands explored her. “Maybe you should take a sick day.”

He was just about to suck her tight bud of a nipple into his mouth when Avery knocked. “Brother. A word. A knot failed last night. Damage was done and we’ll need to go to shore.” Merrick swore, Celia thanked every Saint and Deity she knew of. “And Merrick, Celia didn’t show up for her shift yet. You should send Khalil to check her room.”

Merrick was dressed and at the door, “No need, brother. She spent the night here.” Avery’s eyes widened as she hid herself under the sheets. “Celia! Get to work. We’ll talk more tonight.” He shut the door with a wink and walked with Avery to the deck.

Avery was surprised but then she was his brother’s ideal type. Educated and curvy. A rarity in their line of work. It was only a matter of time before he had her shouting and screaming about all the pleasure, blah blah. All it meant for Avery was he’d need some cotton for his ears or sleeping draught. “Ian is at fault. Go easy on him, he was distracted by things beyond his control. He’s a kid, ok? The damage … well it was bad. But don’t lose your cool. He works hard.”

Merrick braced himself for what he was about to see. Fuck. The spanker sail was torn which would slow their speed considerably. “It seems the rope broke and whipped back to cut into the spanker.” Ian was already standing by the main mast awaiting his punishment.

Merrick looked to Avery, “Did he come forth willingly?” Avery nodded. So he had guts and loyalty to his crew. Nobody else would suffer for his mistakes. However a lesson needed to be learned. These mistakes could cost them lives in a storm.

Merrick took Avery’s whip as Ian braced himself against the main mast. The first lash was brutal and unfortunately Ian was a screamer.

***

Celia was adjusting her clothing. She’d found her old clothes folded in Merrick’s dresser and put them on with a sense of relief. Something familiar to warm her spirit. That was when she heard screaming. It sounded like a child screaming at first. She remembered the face of the boy who was messing up the knot during her unfortunate braless escapade across deck.

She wasn’t sure what compelled her to run towards the screaming, but here she was, on deck watching Merrick. He looked mesmerizing in the sun. It glinted off his golden hair, the drops of sweat dripping from his neck looked like diamonds. But in his hand he swung Avery’s whip and the young boy from before was his target. “FOUR!” he cried, slashing down on the young boy’s back. The boy screamed again.

Celia couldn’t take it. This whole pirate life was cruel! Murder, torture?! She ran and covered the boy just as number five came down. It was nothing like yesterday. Those welts were already mostly healed. Now she knew why Avery gave the punishments. This was pure fire on her back and shoulders. She felt like the sun had reached down and claimed her, burning her to dust. But yet here she was. She couldn’t tell if Ian was screaming or if she was. Who was screaming? Was she alive?

She didn’t know how he had withstood four of these lashes. But he would take no more. She dropped her arms, choking back a sob. “You would dare punish a boy for your mistakes as Captain? It was clear he didn’t know the knot in the first place. Whose fault is it to place an untrained crewman at that post? Teach him the damn knot you filthy piece of—“ The whip cracked dangerously close to her leg. She hated that she flinched away from it.

“Do you agree to take the rest of the lashes then?! Do you agree to take his post?!”

Celia knew he underestimated her. “I challenge you to a duel!! Swords, knots, or darts. You may choose, Captain. If I win he is free from punishment and his wounds treated immediately. I will take over his post while he heals. If you win, I take his lashes.” She thrust her chin up, trying to keep from weeping. The pain was surreal. Her pride made her challenge the man. Her back and brain were already calling her an idiot.

The crew were gobsmacked. They weren’t the only ones. Merrick rubbed his head. “Avery. I have a headache.” Avery, for once, was smiling. Chuckling even.

“A duel brother. She’s made a formal request.” His eyes sparkled with laughter. Everyone knew Merrick was the best swordsman on the sea. The best at darts in every port tavern. But would he go easy on the young lady?

“Swords.” Merrick shrugged. That answered that question – no. He would probably kill her and then mope about it for a week. Ah well.

Avery went to get Merrick’s sword. “Lady Celia, you will follow me to choose your sword.”

Celia smirked. She had been training in different styles of swordplay for nearly 15 years. She was confident. If he was great, so was she. And he was destined to underestimate her skills, seeing her as some aristocrat brat. And she’d have a sword. Perhaps it would give her a chance to get revenge. She doubted she could kill him, but she could add a few scars for him to remember her by.

Avery watched her, he may place bets on this match. She was more than she seemed, but clearly overconfident. “We will have archers watching you. If you stray from the match we will shoot you. If you do not drop your sword the second the match is decided we will shoot you.”

Celia pouted. “I get threatened just about every other sentence with you brothers. I get it. You want me dead. Where are the swords?” He pulled a string of keys from his waist and unlocked a heavy, padlocked door. Inside were what seemed like hundreds of swords, glaives, even Asian katana. How long had this ship been pillaging?

Celia took her time. Avery had chosen for Merrick a typical cutlass. Not too long, sturdy. It looked like it had been used … heavily. This was what most of the swords here looked like. Celia lifted a few, testing their weights. She knew Avery was watching her to test her knowledge so she tried to look more curious than considering. Finally she picked a cutlass as well. It was slimmer than Merrick’s but that meant less weight and more speed for her. The blade was also wicked sharp.

They left and walked back to the deck. “Avery… why does the crew tolerate it? The lashings, the brutality? Was there no other choice for these men?”

Avery laughed. “We are a family. It’s a bond someone like you could never understand.”

Someone like her, huh? Celia would bet money they’d never met someone like her and she was about to prove it. Win or lose, it would not be such an easy match. She made sure to drag her sword a bit. No need to show it was light for her.

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