The last time I was in a hold with facing a situation like this, my enemies had kindly allowed me plenty of time of take stock of the situation and plan. Captain Burdette was not so patient. Scarcely two minutes had passed from the moment Zamari fled to the moment the Captain stormed into the hold with a face like thunder.
“What bloody madness has sunk in down here?”
I’d donned a gambeson from my bag on the chance that this indeed turned into a fight. With my movement buffs Kane had agreed that weighing me down would be foolish but hadn’t budged on training with at least light armor. What I currently wore wouldn’t stop someone who knew how to wield a sword, but it would protect me from most the damage a typical sailor could inflict.
I wasn’t sure whether I was going to fight or not. Even with my recent training and handful of spells – and assuming none of the sailors above could match me – taking on a crew singlehandedly was foolish. It was the kind of foolish thing I’d done before though, once. It was something I was ready to do again.
Burdette must have seen my willingness, because he was willing to talk – even if it was at a high volume.
I moved deliberately. I did so for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was to control my flaring anger. The primary reason, however, was because I’d cast every movement buff I had on myself. I’d practiced a lot to be able to make use of such speed and found that being very deliberate about my movements helped. Burdette didn’t realize that I was preparing to fight him if it came down to it.
“We seem to have an issue, Captain,” I said. I was examining the locking mechanism for the half-elf boy, trying to decide whether I could pick it, break it with some frozen water, or if I’d need the key.
Burdette released a few choice words before continuing. “We sure do! I asked you before we left if you had any issue with this being a slave ship, and you said no. I never would have taken you on if I knew then that you were a Free Brethren plant!”
“I’m not one of the Free Brethren,” I said clearly. “After they zapped me with lightning I wasn’t eager to join up. Nor was I a plant for Donovan. I spoke truly when I said he wasn’t my friend. I didn’t come aboard to sabotage you on his behalf.”
“No? Then what’s this I hear about you striking my first officer?”
“Oh, 100% guilty right there. You see, I’ve been sailing my whole life and I’ve seen some messed up stuff, but nothing like what’s going on here! So, we’ve reached an interesting point in our journey, Captain, because I’m still trying to decide what to do about it.”
Burdette waved his hand around at the hold of slaves, every one of which had further compressed to get away from me, then from whomever they knew would be coming for me. “These people,” he said, “Are the lawful property of either the state or private individuals. I have the papers for every one of them in my cabin. I can tell you who owns each one, what they’re entitled to, their history, their permissions to be placed into my care! Bloody seafoam, Domenic, I’ve got a copy of the decrees and laws that say these slaves have no rights, they’re an entirely separate caste! And I’ve got my commission from the crown to act as an agent on behalf of any documented slave owners or the royal court itself! Just what is it that you hope to accomplish here?”
Burdette sighed, the wind going out of his sails. “There’s a lot of people like you, Domenic. They can’t see the world for the way it is, and they want to be nice to everybody. But some people don’t deserve kindness or pity.” Burdette took a couple of steps closer. “Now, I won’t throw the charge of mutiny on you for this, but …”
He froze as I pulled one of my harpoons from my bag and planted the butt on the deck in front of me. He’d come close enough.
“I hear every word you say, Captain. And frankly I don’t know what my demands are or how I expect to change things. But I do know that this,” I pointed at the collar of the half-elf boy, then at several other examples of cruelty. “Is going to change. I will not allow it to remain as it is.”
“Are you sure about that boy?” Burdette said quietly. “I was willing to grant you mercy for a crime I could have thrown you overboard for, and you immediately make more mutinous statements? Are you sure that this,” he gestured at the silent bodies around us. “Is where you want to plant your flag?”
“This is a hill I’ll die on,” I said. In the heat of the moment I meant it. “The question is, what’s it worth to you?”
If Captain Burdette had the chance to say what was no doubt on the tip of his tongue right then, I believe the decks would have ran with blood. Instead, the surgeon Myota interceded.
“Captain, there are a number of concessions we can make that would benefit us all! So far, slaves face a recovery period of weeks or months after a sea voyage. Death rates so far can be as high as 5%. Slave owners accept these numbers when they put their slaves on board, but we can improve those figures greatly!” The lanky medical officer pointed at examples as he made them.
“We have high class courtesans laying covered in filth, their value going down the drain. Field laborers are bound nearly to immobility, by the time we get them on land they’ll be weak and have half their muscle mass. Simply ventilating the area regularly would greatly improve the current risk for diseases …”
“I’ve heard your proposals, Myota! We’re not taking the royal court out for a pleasure cruise, though. We’re hauling cargo! That’s all these people are: cargo!”
Myota made a helpless gesture and a significant look in my direction. “Small policy changes could mean an easy solution for several problems.”
Burdette glared at his surgeon for a moment before turning his glare on me. I was still leaning on my harpoon, letting him decide what I did next. He took a deep breath and let it out as he mastered himself by force of will.
“I will agree to make the concessions my surgeon suggests, in the interest of protecting the investment of my clients. However,” he raised a finger at me like he’d expected me to start jumping for joy. “As Captain of this ship, I will not tolerate the kind of behavior you have displayed nor let it slide.”
I pursed my lips and nodded. I could understand his position, even sympathize with it. Having Myota make the stipulations for what the slaves needed also satisfied me; he struck me as someone who cared about the slaves as individuals and had been pushing for changes already.
I considered abandoning the Consort. I’d made it past the blockade, I could restart on my own, right? But I didn’t want to do that. That would be starting over from scratch, and for better or worse I wanted to protect the people in this hold.
“What do you say to a flogging, administered by Zamari?” I proposed. “Ship justice is done, Zamari gets his pound of flesh in return for his pride, and the slaves aren’t sitting in their own piss.”
He arched an eyebrow. “You’d surrender yourself to that?”
“I’d require that I not be restrained. I’ll take my punishment, but I don’t want to be helpless doing it. I also want the chance to do some healing on myself later.”
Burdette contemplated that. It was the best option I thought I could have given him. The only disadvantage to him that I could see was that he hadn’t been the one to come up with it and having me set the terms would make him look weak. Either he was smart enough not to be that petty, or he really didn’t count the slaves as witnesses.
The risk to me was that he’d double-cross me and get rid of me; but being thrown overboard again wouldn’t be so traumatic this time. It would also seal his fate, as I wouldn’t let the matter go.
“Done. I’ll hold the proceedings and have judgement this evening. Myota can … start making some changes tomorrow.”
You have advanced to skill level 3 in Leadership. People are more likely to follow your direction; your team receives a 0.5% boost to effectiveness per level.
I put my harpoon away, and that was as close to shaking hands as we came. After he left, everyone else in the looked at me like I was a crazy madman or their savior. Since I’d agreed to take a flogging (and threatened much worse) for their sakes, I suppose I was both.
I spent the rest of the day in Myota’s cabin. It was a temporary prison, but I didn’t see it as such. Getting to know the surgeon was a satisfying use of my time.
Myota had plenty of ideas for improving the health and quality of life for the slaves aboard the Consort as well as the entire slave industry. It was actually a blessing that Burdette had required the concessions to come from his surgeon and not whatever demands I could think of on the spot – as a medical professional Myota had a much better understanding of what would be really helpful. He also had a limited medical interface for the Consort, which included the slaves. Most surgeons I’d crewed with either had the job foisted upon them because they were handy with a blade or because they happened to have a healing spell – they were hardly professionals.
We spoke about what we wanted to see happen. Myota had plenty of creative ideas, but he was timid about implementing them. He didn’t want to do away with the shackles, for instance, because he feared the tension between a loose slave hold and the crew would lead to bloodshed. He instead wanted to have shackles on fewer people – on some sort of alternating schedule – so the shackles didn’t lead to scarring.
My impassioned arguments caused by the memory of the half-elf boy were ephemeral in the face of his logical arguments. I still managed to convince him of the wisdom of having him in charge of how many were chained at any time rather than give that control to Burdette or Zamari – who’d likely seek to tighten their grasp again.
Myota wasn’t a supporter of the way I’d forcibly caused change, even if it got the result he was striving for. He didn’t support the Free Brethren either, calling their actions counter-productive to the legal fight to close chattel slavery. His arguments were an education on the laws surrounding slavery and the politics in play.
Though I had to admit his arguments for a peaceful, gradual dissolution of the slave caste made a certain kind of sense, I knew I wasn’t going to live by such thinking. My entrance into that slave hold was a memory I would never forget, and simply abiding it while convincing those who allowed it of the errors of their ways wasn’t acceptable.
That’s why I was getting ready to receive my lashings.
As evening approached, Dogen the quartermaster came down and told us everybody was getting ready. Since the decision and punishment was a foregone conclusion, he also told me how it would play out. I was surprised to discover that the Consort had a special whip used in punishments that caused very low HP loss but lots of pain. There was an anecdote on the ship’s contract (which I had yet to see or sign, though I wouldn’t use that as an excuse) that when this special whip was used the lashings could be doubled. Zamari had insisted upon using it on me, and I doubted Burdette had taken much convincing.
Instead of being charged with mutiny, I was being charged with striking an officer. That carried a normal punishment of 50 lashings, doubled to 100. The crew would be gathered for the punishment, but the slaves wouldn’t be. The slavery mentality really did consider them as lesser beings and didn’t think there would be any point in having slaves witness the punishment of a higher caste.
Then it was time. Myota offered me a vial to drink. I thought it was liquor to steel myself, but it was a potion that numbed pain. I wasn’t so full of myself that I refused it. If I passed out, Myota would have to revive me or care for me until I could finish my punishment later. He didn’t want to do that anymore than I did.
I left my adventurer’s bag in Myota’s cabin and made my way to the main deck. It didn’t feel surreal; I felt antsy. I knew what was coming, and I both wanted to get it over with and never have to go through it. I’d faced punishment before. Never 100 lashes, but I had an idea of what was coming.
The judicial proceedings were brief. Burdette stood on the quarterdeck and declared what had happened and his judgement. I’d heard from pirate crews that such matters were decided by group consensus, but that sounded ridiculous to me. The captain of a ship was the authority aboard that ship. His word was law. I didn’t expect anything else while working for others, and I would demand nothing less when captaining my own ship.
Typically, I would be tied to the mast for my flogging. Burdette honored his agreement though, and I wasn’t bound. I heard a few calls of ‘take it like a man!’ and ‘how many before he tries to run?’ but on the whole the crew was rather somber. I don’t know what story they were told besides Burdette’s sentencing, but they’d seen me working hard alongside them, doing the work of at least three men.
It made me glad it hadn’t come down to killing them. They might agree with or at the least do nothing about slavery, but they were sailors like me. Up until my shock earlier, I’d had the same attitude as most of them.
I didn’t have the same attitude as Zamari. He was upset and anxious to take out his anger on me. He wielded his whip, making sure I was able to see it.
Promise of Misery (whip): 0-1 HP damage. High chance of causing increased pain effects.
It had half a dozen cords with bone claws on the end. Wielded normally, it might not cause any damage at all but there was no doubt it would have my back flayed by the time we were through.
I braced myself against the mast without responding to anyone. I knew myself well enough to know that I’d shout and scream eventually, but I resolved not to for as long as possible. I also steeled my will not to ask for mercy or forgiveness.
At Burdette’s command, Zamari began.
The first lash hurt a whole lot more than I expected it to, tearing a grunt from my throat. True to form, it had only taken a single HP. It had torn at my shirt but hadn’t immediately shredded it. That happened over the sequential lashings.
Gratefully I didn’t see the blows coming, but it was hard not to jerk or try to move with the blow in a nonsensical attempt to lessen the impact. Without the pain reducing potion Myota had given me, I probably would have yelled before we hit 15 – and that was with the resistances my cursed body had. As it was, I held out until just after 25 before giving in and allowing an expression for my pain.
Zamari mocked me. “Look at that! Scarcely a quarter done, and he’s broken already!”
“Shut up and keep going!” I snapped. “I don’t have all day for your grandstanding.”
There was a tense moment of shock as everybody looked at Zamari – who a quick peek showed was turning scarlet – and then the Captain. Would I be punished more?
When Zamari looked to the Captain as well Burdette just waved his hand as though telling him to get on with it. Zamari returned to his task with a vengeance.
I’d noticed that the Promise of Misery followed its description of dealing 0-1 damage. I also noticed that after I’d insulted Zamari and he swung with greater effort, it inflicted 1 damage a lot more than it inflicted 0. He wasn’t causing any critical hits that would cause more damage than the weapon rating, but I did gain a bleeding effect that sapped a few more HP every minute.
I didn’t hold back and yelled, screamed, and swore as much as I felt like it. None of my oaths were particularly creative, but they were loud. After 40 lashes my energy for volume dissipated. I tried focusing on the fluids leaving my body to distract myself; either the tears on my face or the blood on my back. Both were poor distractions, but the blood was the better of the two. It would flow from one cut into another, stopping and merging with other streams. In some spots I could feel it seep into the tattered strands of my shirt. In others, it pooled around my waistband before a few streams made their way down my legs.
In his anger Zamari lashed from my shoulders down my back all the way to my butt cheeks. If my sticky blood hadn’t already adhered my pants to my thighs my pants probably would have dropped right off after he shredded the waistband. The thought of waggling my behind at Zamari and mooning him made me choke out a laugh even through the pain. Knowing the first mate would be only too happy to turn my pale behind into a red tapestry, I resisted the urge.
At 70 lashes, I was only groaning, gasping, and occasionally swearing. Zamari was tired from swinging the lash so hard and recklessly and took a moment for a break to stretch.
“What, tired already?” I called; my voice raw. “Would you like for me to show you how it’s done?”
With a wordless cry, he returned to his lashing me with a vengeance. I wasn’t sure with all the damage I was taking from bleeding, but I thought he even managed to make the whip do 2 damage for a few strikes. I lost count of the lashes.
Myota intervened. “Stop! Captain, he might expire at this rate. He’s … bleeding more than usual for Promise of Misery.” I heard a hint of accusation in those words. My insults to Zamari no doubt played a role in making him go so hard, but I wasn’t feeling noble enough to take any of the blame.
“Is he worth using a potion on?? Myota continued. “Otherwise I must insist the punishment be continued later.”
Knowing I wasn’t worth the cost of a potion, I said, “I can replace the potion from my own stores. Let’s get this over with.”
I didn’t see everybody’s reaction, but I could imagine shrugs and nods. Myota brought me a potion. I took it in trembling hands and managed not to spill any. It wouldn’t stop my bleeding, but it would inflate my HP long enough to get the punishment over with.
My mind was hazy with the pain inflicted by the unique weapon, but I kept telling myself I’d been through worse. Trying to imagine times of greater pain wasn’t a helpful distraction, but I wasn’t coherent enough to come up with a better one. Part of my mind was screaming at me for putting myself in such a vulnerable position, but unless I just dove overboard there wasn’t much for it now but pressing through.
Zamari kept lashing, but he lingered longer between strikes. I knew it was about him getting tired, but I couldn’t help feeling angry that he was toying with me. How many lashes were left? After a lengthy pause, I snapped.
“C’mon, you wet noodle!” I said, half turning. “Don’t you use your right hand for everything? Let’s go!”
Zamari swung the flails at my face – something that was definitely not allowed in such punishments – and I barely caught the blow on my arm instead. Zamari jerked the flails back, scoring my arm. He immediately set to inflicting as many lashes as he could on me, my already striped back being cut deeper. I sunk to one knee under the blows before there was a commotion behind me. I paid attention in time to hear Burdette say, “the extra blows are to be on Domenic’s own head, as he clearly brought it upon himself.”
I wanted to know how many ‘extra blows’ there were but had more pressing issues. The bleeding I had would only kill me if I was negligent enough to do nothing about it before passing out. That still didn’t stop Myota’s sense of urgency in binding my wounds – something I appreciated.
Zamari was being quietly chastised for his loss of temper while Dogen had everyone get back to work.
“How much rest do you need before you can use that healing spell of yours?” Myota asked.
“Bring me my bag and I’ll get on it right away.” My health and stamina were both low, but my mana was fine. The surgeon trusted my word and retrieved my bag. I stiffly made my way up the quarterdeck and a sailor brought the length of line that I asked for. I thanked him and began tying a harness that would secure me without aggravating my wounds too much. Myota had an idea of what I was doing, but the sailor had no clue and looked on curiously. I gave some instructions that made him go wide-eyed, but he helped. I noticed that a few other sailors had gathered to see what I was up to as well.
My plan was simple: cleansing waters required that I be immersed in water. That wasn’t usually a problem for me, but I had an illusion to maintain. The healers that used the spell even avoided having their patient’s face above water, instead having them breath through a straw. Not having that kind of setup aboard the ship, I would go overboard. The Consort wasn’t travelling fast and with my nature being trailed behind was no big deal. I just had to pass off my cursed effects as clever spellwork.
“I plan to climb up in the morning under my own power,” I said. “But if I don’t, it’s probably because I didn’t renew my water breathing spell in time.” I smiled at the morbid joke that made more than one of my small audience question my sanity.
I stripped off my bloody rags and had them lower me over into the water since I didn’t feel like jumping. The saltwater welcomed me home, the liquid a balm to my tortured skin instead of the agony others would expect. As the crew gave me as much line as I told them to, I was pulled behind in the carrack’s wake. The ship’s travelling speed and my body on the end of the line I had pulled me underwater instead of skimming along the surface. In my case that was just what I wanted.
I cast cleansing waters and felt the spell infuse the water around me. The cost of the spell was less than my mana recovery rate, so I had no problems with that. All I needed was time. I’d stay awake as long as possible. I’d managed to use the spell in my sleep before but with my current exhaustion I wasn’t sure I could pull it off.
The blood-soaked bandages I was wearing helped keep my mind alert. I’ll admit, after spending so much time in the water I’d lost the fear most sailors had of sharks. That didn’t mean it was a wise idea to chum the water and go swimming!
I reflected on how I’d found myself in this position. I was a Captain of the Deep, why did I debase myself into submitting to a flogging?
Even with the painful experience, I still thought my decision was right. Standing up for the slaves resonated with my soul. People shouldn’t be bound like that.
That didn’t mean I wasn’t wondering if Burdette would cut my lifeline. As far as he knew, cutting that would mean I die – keeping me from causing any more trouble. In the slave hold I’d let his words and decision decide his fate and the fate of his crew. I was doing that again. If he cut me loose, I’d follow and show him the wrath of a servant of Davy Jones.
I waited, but my line stayed taut. I eventually fell asleep, but when I woke I wasn’t drifting.
Burdette had chosen life.