Alexander awakes to a bloodcurdling scream.
He leaps out of his bed in a single bound, racing across the uneven floor of his quarters. The splintering wood is rough against his bare feet as he wrenches open the door to his room. Warm morning light sweeps across him in a blinding swath of gold and he blinks furiously, his heart pounding. He hears the fluttering of wings as something swoops low over his head, rustling his wild hair.
Spinning on his heels, he sees Salty flapping wildly about his quarters, talons extended
“Emerala the Rogue,” screams Salty. “Gone to die! Awk, gone to die!”
Something cold grabs hold of his insides as he watches the parrot.
“She’s gone,” comes a low growl behind him. He glances over his shoulder to see the Lethal framed in the open doorway. The old pirate is grim and grey against the dazzling light behind him.
“Bloody bird has been screamin’ all morning.”
“What do you mean, gone?” Alexander demands. He recalls the last time they had spoken, and the ardent hatred that had riddled her emerald gaze. He is not surprised, he realizes, only disappointed. He snatches a pair of trousers off of the end of his cot and begins sliding his legs into them one at a time, hopping slightly to stay upright.
“Lass left before sunrise,” the Lethal says, looking sour. He adds, “with the Hawk.”
At that, Alexander draws up short, one leg of his trousers still around his knee. He studies the Lethal’s face. There is, as usual, no trace of humor in his expression. Disappointment gives way to something darker and angrier. His skin broils.
“Damn him,” he breathes. “Damn him to the Dark Below.”
“What do ye need from me?” The Lethal asks, his face unreadable.
Alexander finishes dressing, his thoughts jumbling into one another. “How close are we to Chancey?” he asks. “Are we close enough to take the rowboats in?”
“Then we’ll follow them to shore. Fetch Thom, let him know where we’re going. He’ll be in charge while I’m gone.”
“And the ship?” the Lethal asks. “We be getting’ mighty close to port. En’t good to be spotted at a time like this.”
“No, it’s not.” Alexander purses his lips, considering. “Tell Thom to have the men bring the ship in quietly—dock her in one of the coves offshore. She’ll be out of sight, then, at least.”
“Ye want me to accompany you, then?” The Lethal’s fingers dance at the hilt of his dagger.
“Yes,” Alexander says without hesitation. “If it comes down to a fight, I need you on my side.”
“It will have to be a quick kill,” the Lethal muses. “I’ve got sleight of hand when it comes to fightin’, aye, but the Hawk—well, the boy’s merciless.”
Alexander shoots him a grim look as he buttons the top of his undershirt. “Do whatever you need to do when the time comes.”
The look that the Lethal gives him is frightening. “Aye, Cap’n,” he says.
The waves are calm as they paddle ashore. The wind has settled into an indulgent breeze, and the warmth of it tickles the back of Alexander’s neck as he draws the oars towards him. The rhythmic splashing of the paddles breaking the surface of the sea is as low and as a slow as a drumbeat.
Drums of war, he thinks, feeling the anger that simmers just within him. It is close to boiling, now, to bubbling over and scalding everything within reach. All this time, he knew that the Hawk had some ulterior motive. He knew that he had some deeper, independent plan. He knew, and yet he had let the pirate continue on unbridled—unchecked.
I thought that if I gave him enough rope, he would hang himself, he muses. He sees, now, that he was wrong.
He should have been more protective of Emerala—he should have been more guarded. From the moment they brought her onboard the Hawk had made himself her shadow. He followed her everywhere, coveting her, cornering her. Jealous, Alexander had chalked it up to nothing more than an infatuation.
Jealousy, he thinks, chiding himself silently. Jealousy is a child’s vice, not a man’s.
His own feelings for Emerala have made him blind. He assumed that the Hawk’s behavior was due to feeling similarly—not due to his constant, calculating planning.
“I’m a damned fool,” he says aloud, unthinking.
Before him, the Lethal is quiet—thoughtful—fingering the blade of his dagger. The parrot rests upon his shoulder, his beady black eyes catching in the sun.
“Are ye?” the old pirate asks, one eyebrow rising upon his forehead. The discoloration of his blind eye is pronounced in the sunlight.
“I am. I should have seen the Hawk for what he was.” He shakes his head, frowning as the paddles hit sand. The tide is low—the pale beach stretches out before them, interspersed with formless blue shadows cast by the looming cliff wall.
“And what is he?” the Lethal asks.
“A liar.” Alexander shrugs. “A thief.”
“Murderer,” squawks Salty quietly.
The Lethal gives a wry laugh. “So he’s a pirate, then, aye?”
Alexander scowls at him as he leaps from the rowboat. His boots squelch into the damp sand underfoot. He grabs hold of the wherry, watching as the Lethal does the same. The water is up to his knees, a dark line of saturation plying at his trousers. Together, they drag it ashore and upend it upon the sand. Alexander peers out across the rippling ocean, squinting his eyes against the dazzling sunlight that plays off of the white-capped waves. The tide is still leeching from the sand, dragging the breakers farther from the cliff. They have several hours before they need to worry about the rowboat being carried off.
Squaring his shoulders, he scours the beach. His fingers linger at the ready just above his cutlass. The beach is empty—there are no flashes of gold, no Guardians in sight. Not yet, anyway, he thinks. A mile or so ahead, he can see a slender figure making her way down the long stretch of beach. Her features are obscured by the blue shade of the cliffs, but the curves of her are unmistakable.
Emerala, he thinks, unsure whether to feel anger or relief.
The Hawk is nowhere is sight.
“Where he is?” He curses under his breath, his eyes scanning the shadows.
“Likely saw us comin’,” the Lethal snarls. “Tread carefully, now.”
They maneuver slowly down the beach, keeping their weapons in their scabbards. They are silent as they study the shadows beneath the crumbling stone outcroppings of the cliffs. The sun is rising higher in the sky, dragging a sheet of glistening gold across the fast drying sand.
Several uneventful moments pass them by. Up ahead, the figure of Emerala is growing smaller. Silently, Alexander gestures for the Lethal to follow her. He nods in a show of understanding, taking off down the beach. He sticks close to the lapping waves, his eyes upon the cliffs.
Alexander draws closer to the crumbling rocks, his head cocked as he listens for any sort of sound. All he can hear is the whisper of the wind and the murmur of the sea. A soft breeze tickles the tall, yellow grass that rises between the rocks upon the sand. The movement distracts him momentarily and he draws closer, his cutlass sliding out from the scabbard at his waist with a shivering sigh. A thin sheen of sweat rises to Alexander’s skin beneath the itching collar of his undershirt. He rubs the back of his hand across his forehead, freezing in mid-movement as he feels something cold and hard press against his skull.
“Hello, Hawk,” he says coldly. He curses himself inwardly for not hearing the lanky pirate slinking up behind him in the sand.
“Cap’n.” He can hear the sneer in the Hawk’s voice. The pistol presses harder against the back of his head. “Drop your sword.”