Merrick was waiting. Avery handed him his sword and murmured some words. He regarded her while the crew stood at the railings. “We will fight until the other is unarmed. Then the match is over. No death blows. I’ve agreed to her terms. Let the duel begin.”
Celia circled him, her sword dipped just enough to seem heavy. He was longer so his reach would be longer. She’d have to get in close. He made the first move, lunging to come at her from above. Celia dodged to the left, smashing her hilt into his back before darting away. He cursed, spinning to face her. They circled, each measuring the other.
“This isn’t your first duel I’m assuming?” Merrick’s back did not thank him for underestimating her. She wasted no words, just smirked and lunged forward.
These were practice swings, testing the other’s limits. It had been a while since she’d faced an opponent like him. He was stronger than her, but she was seemingly faster. That would be her edge. Celia lunged to his right and then swept up to his left. She just needed get him in a compromising position and the match would be hers.
Merrick was not expecting this woman to go from aristocrat to swordswoman in two days. Who was she? Was she really Celia Grey, daughter to wealthy aristocrat Silvan Grey? Her speed was incredible for a woman of such… voluptuousness. She surprised him. She would kill him if he didn’t step his game up. Proof of that came when her sword came close to cutting his neck. He blocked her just in time to prevent the match being called. He threw his weight into the block, shoving her to the ground.
Merrick was going to congratulate himself on the match but she rolled easily into a standing position. Like hitting the floor was second nature to her. Interesting. That type of maneuver was learned in hand to hand combat! She was fascinating to him and he was enjoying himself now.
Celia darted in with quick movements, each designed to strain his arms. He slashed down at her, meeting the flat of her blade each time. She was no novice. She could probably take half his crew or more with her skills. She proved it each time she stomped his toes and elbowed his ribs. She took this seriously and she loved each blow she landed on his smug self.
She scratched his face and tried to thrust her hilt under his but he slapped her burning back. “If you want to play dirty. I can do that too Ms. Grey.”
Celia wanted to scream and curl up on the floor but she knew that if she lost this match it would be devastating. Five more lashes like this one might kill her. This was no time to feel pain. She was furious he had slapped her on the back but liked that he was taking the match seriously. She wanted to win and she wanted to win against him at his best. She knew he’d been taking her lightly and now he was getting nervous about her beating him.
The match seemed to last for hours. Thrust, parry, thrust, dodge. It was time to end this. Merrick jammed his sword against hers just as she did the same. Their free arms wrenched the others hilts away and threw them to the ground. She was about to knee his groin when Avery spoke.
Avery decided to call it, “MATCH OVER!” This was an unexpected showing of skill from the woman but the match was dragging on and it was time to get back to work.
Celia slumped against the main mast. “I didn’t lose, Captain.”
Avery walked up. “The match was a draw. You are surprisingly skilled for a woman.”
She fumed. Celia hated backhanded compliments like these. “I think you mean I am skilled.”
Merrick groaned. “The fight is over woman. Give it a rest! Ian, go to Baba for treatment. Celia, you’ve earned a reward. I will take Ian’s post. You will rest and take that bath you keep talking about. Men, we’re going to the Island!!” Cheers rang out as men hustled back to work.
Celia half limped to the hallway when she heard Merrick’s steps behind her. He had a gait to him that was confident stride mixed with a slight swagger from being on boats most his life. “Celia. This way. The only bath is in my room.” She rolled her eyes. “Great. Why does it feel like this bath isn’t such a victory?”
He grinned. “I’ll leave you alone. I have Ian’s post to handle. Just let me have the water brought up and you can rest. I’ll have Baba come treat your back when she is done with Ian.”
Her eyes seemed sad. “Merrick. That boy is a child. I’m at least an adult. Wounds like that could get infected and kill him. You have your crew that must respect you but.. isn’t there another way to earn it besides fear? He couldn’t tie that know if his life actually depended on it, yet you punish him for his lack of skill instead of placing him where he could do good work like helping Baba in the kitchen.”
Merrick felt shamed. Like a child being scolded by a mother for running away. Half hugged with relief and half squeezed with anger. “I will think about it. He may do well aiding Baba until he is older. But I am Captain of this ship and there are consequences. If he was unable to do the work, he should have spoken up. He cost me money and could have cost us lives if a storm had blown in last night.” They were both right. He waited until the water was in his bathtub and then left her to go to Ian’s post.
It took a week to reach the island. When it first came into view cheers and shouts were heard from even the lowest deck. Celia was in the kitchen with Ian and Baba. “Where’s this island? Is it your home?” She was desperate to see a compass and sea chart… if she could find this place it would be crucial in her stopping these attacks on her people. Baba just shrugged. She was no dummy, she would give no such information.
Ian, well. He didn’t know much but said, “It’s our home. We are safe there because it’s only us pirates that know it and can get there. I’ve only been once but it’s the best place on earth. Beer… women..” he blushed and continued scrubbing the pot he’d been scrubbing the past 10 minutes.
Baba laughed. “Ian, dear. Give that pot a rest. Come help me with these vegetables. I want them diced up so these boys won’t pick them out of my stew!” Celia laughed. These were the easy days. She’d seen Merrick only once. He’d come to check on the new arrangements with Ian. It was sweet. Ian was grateful and they seemed to build some kind of bond. Now they’d finally arrived to the island and she knew she had to find Merrick.
Celia was still hopeful to break free. Perhaps they’d let her roam the island. She was sure to find a boat she could stowaway on and escape with. Even if it was another pirate ship, at least it would surely go to another port soon. None of the ships they met during the nights seemed nearly as big as Merrick’s. A smaller ship meant it would need to go for supplies much more often. She pinned her hair with her dagger, grabbed a piece of wire she’d shaped into a pick and went on deck.
“Captain! May I have a word?” Merrick turned towards Celia. She had that look in her eye.
Avery and him exchanged looks. “Merrick, she’s going to want to go on the island. If you allow it, you must be prepared to lose her or be prepared to do nothing but shadow her. It is your choice.”
Merrick shook his head, “She’s been trained to spot someone tailing her. She knows I’m there before I even know I’m there.” He turned and walked towards her.
“Let’s talk in my quarters. I know what you want already so make a good argument.” She nodded.
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