Continued… (for a full list of the parts to Ancient Fire, click here)
(Previously: Lottie only just avoided being discovered by the Witch. Pushing hard in fear of being caught in the open by the Witch returning, they reached the forest where Lottie guessed and hoped the Deathbrand pirates would be… if they were lucky, and the pirates were still on land at all)
Lottie lay, wedged under the shelter of rough bush-like foliage, the smell of last year’s leaf mold filling her nostrils. She didn’t notice. Her sweat had dried, leaving her skin stiff. She forced a brown hand into her curls. She needed a wash like never before. She tried not to picture what a fright she must look, and then had to shrug to herself. Her messiness was probably the least of her worries at the moment.
Elad, wolf in form, slept peacefully nearby. For her part, she had only been able to catch about an hour’s sleep before waking up to lie awake now. Something was banishing sleep from her – restlessness? Fear? Something. She couldn’t put a finger on it.
Lottie looked at Elad again. It would be a shame to wake him. And what could it hurt to just take a quick explore in the area near their hiding place and get a feel for the wood and the coast?
She crept out from the protecting bushes and moved stealthily in the direction she knew the sea lay, leaving her bag behind. She heard the gentle steady roar of the waves breaking on sand, and after making her way towards it for a few more minutes, she saw it. It glinted white in the light of the moon, but far down the beach to her left was something distinctly not white. It was golden, and glowing. Firelight? She shrank back into the shelter of the trees and crept closer. She would just get close enough to see what and who it was, and then she would go back to Elad. She almost smiled to think how surprised he would be if she found them herself. Then she thought of how terrifying it would be if the light really did belong to the pirates, and all inclination to smile vanished.
She made out the ship first. As she got closer, she could see around the bonfire the shapes of milling men, and a few bound and huddled women. On the ship, figures could be seen, working on the supposedly damaged parts. A man with a harsh throaty voice was lashing them with his words.
“Enough funning, slobs. It’s back to sea before we’re caught. Come on, a little touch ups shouldn’t take this long. You, move the prisoners on board. The rest of you, clear away this mess. We leave with the tide. Anyone working too slow I will personally spit on my sword and toss into the sea. Get moving!”
Lottie couldn’t move. Her eyes were locked on the man, one name burning into her mind: Captain Vladimir Hawk. Pirate, daredevil, murderer, thief…
He moved in towards the fire as if to benefit from the increased light. He undid a satchel at his side and dumped its contents into the sand. A dozen pieces of something that glittered and flashed dropped into the sand in front of his knees. Frowning, he shuffled them around with a stick, rearranging, experimenting, growling in annoyance and frustration. He seemed loath to actually touch it. Lottie, eyes narrowed until they were almost shut, just managed to recognize it at last. It was fragments of a sword, a golden sword that almost shone with its own light, a sword like no other, the sword she had seen in her dreams. Nimrod’s sword. It had to be. And after all, it was what had brought her to these pirates.
Her mind raced. How would they get it back if he carried it on his person?
If the All-Maker really wanted me to stop the Witch, he might make it a little easier, she thought in frustration. Come on, Lottie, think, think, think! I wish Elad were here – he would know what to do. I’m no good at this! Okay, I give up – if you want me to get that sword, you’re going to have to show me what to do.
Hawk stood up, roughly stuffing the fractured sword back into the satchel and cursing the burns spangling his hands and the blood that streaked down from the cuts the fragments made, visible even from Lottie’s distance. He flung the satchel at a startled pirate, who just managed to catch it.
“Take that on board. I’m sick of it. Shift it, you lot!” He stormed off down the beach, kicking sand, stones, and water, and cursing all the way.
The pirate climbed up the gangplank and began to cross the deck. Lottie watched him carefully, hope sinking. Every step further into the ship’s depths diminished the possibility of getting Fyre back more and more.
“Hey, hey! Reinforcements! Boys, come on, help! The prisoners are trying to escape!”
They were more than trying. One of the women had broken free and was running into the trees. Encouraged by her success, the others had gotten to their feet and, though still with their arms bound to their waists, were scattering in all directions. Lottie watched with a sudden thrill of hope as the pirate with the precious satchel let it fall and ran with the rest to chase down the escapers.
Lottie knew another chance like this would not come. It was the only one. She hesitated for a second, wondering if she could somehow signal Elad for help, but realized that to get his attention would be at the cost of getting the attention of the whole pirate crew. She would have to chance it – on her own.
Creeping quickly around the fire, she sped on board the ship. Speed would be better cover than taking her time. The firelight was too clear and time was not her friend. It would have to be a hit-and-run affair. Heart pounding against her ribs, she leapt up the gangplank.
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