- The Sea Wolves
The pursuit was not about orders but time. If the wind held and the fog did not shift, they might just reach the fogbank before the Charon bore down upon them.
At the bow, Ghost seemed to shake with anger and the promise of violence, sending vibrations rattling through the ship. Either that, or their speed caused the timbers of the hull to shiver.
Jack walked the deck, knowing that he had nothing to say to these half-men, because they all knew what was required of them. But he did discover something during that endless hour: Werewolves could feel fear. It was never overt, and never revealed in anything they said, but he could sense it in them—the way they glanced toward Death’s ship as it closed on them, the uncomfortable silences where two men worked together, their determination to win the race, tweaking every ounce of speed from the sails, ensuring that the rigging held taut and flowed smoothly.
If Death caught them, they would know pain.
Now’s the time, Jack thought. He moved for the skiff, trying to place each member of the crew to see who might spot him, who might interfere. He would prepare to move, then dash below to fetch Sabine and their stashed supplies. And then—
If the Larsen reached the fog first, and Ghost managed to escape his brother, he would come looking for any alternative target.
Damn it, Jack thought. Damn it! What little plan he had was barely a plan at all.
“Mr. London, as soon as we enter the fog, heave to.”
“What?” someone said. Jack didn’t see who. His eyes were on Ghost, the monstrous man standing there like some deformed figurehead. The captain’s eyes did not even flicker from Jack’s as he answered the dissent.
“Yes, sir,” Jack said, and he ran the length of the ship, relaying the orders as he went. Two men scrambled aloft, ready to drop sail the moment the call came, and Vukovich nodded even before Jack reached him. He had heard. He did not need the human telling him what to do.
“His own cleverness might be his undoing,” Louis said.
“I don’t understand,” Jack said, pleased to hear, if not a friendly voice, then at least one willing to converse with him.
“He’s trying to second-guess his brother. Any ordinary pursuit would continue into the fog, so Ghost won’t do that. If we reach the fog in time, what then? Turn north, right across the Charon’s bow? It might work, but there’s a chance Death will see us, or that we’ll collide. We could run south, skimming the edges of the fogbank, try to put so much distance between the two ships that there’s no hope of them regaining our trail. But perhaps Death would anticipate such a step, and if he guesses correctly and quickly, they could overtake us.”
“So stop altogether?” Jack asked.
“Why not?” Louis asked. “At least it’s not running anymore.”
“But if Death guesses that as well?”
“Maybe he will, maybe not.” Louis’s smile was empty, almost distant, as he stared across the gently rolling sea at the approaching vessel.
Jack could see a lot more of the Charon now, and at last he could understand the Larsen crew’s barely veiled concern. The Charon was at least twice as large as the Larsen, a black behemoth with five boats to each side, a single busy funnel, and what looked like a small deck gun mounted close to its bow. There was lots of activity around the gun, and Jack guessed that they would be in range in moments.
Ghost looked from the Charon to the fogbank, then along the ship to Jack. He nodded. They were going to make it….
The deck gun on the Charon puffed smoke, and the thunder of its report came just as a hole was punched in one of the Larsen’s sails. An awful stillness descended upon Jack. The Charon had a working turret gun, firing projectiles that had to weigh over a hundred pounds each. It would be muzzle-loading, which meant a lag after each shot, but if they managed to get one or two right on target, the Larsen might be done for.
“Now, that’s not fair,” Louis said.
Tree and Demetrius crouched at the railing and started firing rifles, but the enemy was far out of range, and Jack shouted at them to hold fire. The sea wolves glared at him with undisguised hostility. Ghost nodded at him once again and then left his position at the bow and walked the length of the ship.
On the Charon, Jack saw, was a shape doing the same. The silhouette was of a big man, walking at the same pace as Ghost, bearing the same air of power and dominance, even though from this distance it was impossible to make out his features. It was something about the way he walked that echoed Ghost’s disregard for anyone but himself—confidence and arrogance and a sense of complete entitlement; each believed he alone owned the ocean.
In Ghost’s eyes as he passed, Jack saw an acknowledgment of his brother’s presence.
“As soon as we’re sheltered by the fog,” Ghost said. “But make the order a quiet one. They’re already in earshot.”
And then our time will come, Jack thought.
Ghost reached the steps leading down and paused before descending. His men looked at him in disbelief. He stared around at them, then across at the Charon, closing on them. The gun coughed again, and Jack heard the shot before the round impacted close to the bow, shattering a length of railing and splintering a swath of deck where Ghost had been standing seconds before.
“You have your orders, Mr. London,” Ghost said. “I’m not to be disturbed unless the plan goes awry. I have a sea witch to put on trial.” His grin as he turned and descended into the shadows made Jack sick to his stomach.
Sabine! Jack thought, and his already precarious plan was in tatters.
From the rigging, Kelly called down, “First whiff of fog.”
Moments later they entered the fogbank and, without Jack even opening his mouth to issue the order, the Larsen proceeded to heave to. Death’s deck gun barked again, and the shot whistled thorough the rigging, flapping Kelly’s loose trouser leg where he worked on the crosstrees. He paused, surprised, and then proceeded with his tasks.
The ship acted as if it wanted to sail on—straining against the wind, creaking heavily as it pitched against a swell, sails billowing in complaint as they were lowered and the booms swung and tied. Cut the noise! Jack wanted to shout, but his voice would have been more noise for their enemy to hear, and—
The Charon passed ahead of them, visible as little more than a shadow against the rolling fog. Jack might have taken it as an apparition if he hadn’t known for sure the ship was there. Ghost’s crew grew still and silent as they watched the shadow powering past, driven by humming engines, its passage marked by the angry swirl of water against its metal hull. Jack could almost feel everyone’s held breath in his own lungs, and as the fog swallowed the Charon, they all began to breathe again.
“Orders, sir?” someone said, and Jack glanced around for Ghost. But Vukovich had been addressing him. His animal voice found sarcasm an easy tone to carry.
“We drift until I say otherwise,” Jack said, brain working frantically. What could he salvage from this? How could he make the plan work, when Ghost always seemed to be there to haunt any chance they had at escape?
“And then?” Vukovich asked.
“And then… I’ll tell you.” Jack and the pirate stared at each other, but he could never intimidate such a creature. He paced the deck instead, grabbing hold of something as each swell knocked against the drifting ship’s hull and rocked the boat as if it rode a great storm. He paused by the skiff he had chosen, conscious of its slight movements each time the Larsen rolled—it ought to have been strapped down tightly, but he had loosened its restraints. With the ship drifting, it would be even easier to launch, and the temptation to do so then was great. The fog was so thick that from the Larsen’s stern, the bow would be a nebulous place.
The Charon passed ahead of them, visible as little more than a shadow against the rolling fog.
But what of Sabine?
Jack wanted nothing more than to venture belowdecks to see what was happening. There had been no sound since Ghost’s descent—no cries or screams, which was good. But Ghost had deemed going below more important than remaining on deck to oversee their flight from his predatory brother. Sabine was the only reason. I have a sea witch to put on trial, he’d said. Jack could not believe that any trial conducted by Ghost would be fair, and Sabine’s guilt was already without doubt. Death had almost rammed them into the depths, and she had not whispered a word of warning about his arrival.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him this furious,” Louis said. He had come to stand beside Jack without making a sound, and now they both held on to the skiff’s gunwale as the Larsen drifted side-on to the waves.
“He didn’t look furious,” Jack said.
“That’s what I mean. He’s holding it all in, like a hurricane contained. And Ghost is not a man to hold back his rage.”
“That’s no concern of mine.”
“Really?” Louis asked. “Sabine is a concern, non? Because it’s she who will be suffering. She had to know the Charon was nearby. We might have given Death Nilsson the slip for now, but there’s blame to lay, and where there’s blame there will be consequences.”
“What consequences?” Jack asked, blood flowing cold. But Louis moved away, fading like a wraith into the thickening fog.
He had to go below. Prepared or not—and he knew that he would never be ready to face Ghost one-on-one—he could not remain on deck while Ghost was below with Sabine. It was not only the information she had withheld; there was that look in the captain’s eyes when he had seen her and Jack on the same cot. Whether he loved her or merely lusted for her, the result was the same. He coveted her body and soul, and now he would punish her for the yearning she inspired within him just as much as for her sins against him.
Jack made for the covered stairwell, but just as he reached it, he heard the thump of booted feet from below. Ghost emerged, an enraged man being born from darkness into a world he could only hate. His teeth were gritted, eyes watering, hands fisted, and he brought with him a miasma of fury that seemed to scar the air around him.
Jack stepped back as Ghost lashed out, but he could not avoid the blow. The captain’s huge fist caught him across the shoulder as he retreated, and he spun and fell, crawling quickly across the deck in a vain attempt to avoid the next attack. A dreadful realization hit Jack then, and filled him with a terrible hopelessness: He’ll kill me now, because he’s mad at Sabine but cannot afford to kill her.
But as Jack scurried away, he realized that Ghost had not followed him. Instead the captain strode the length of the ship, each footfall an impact as shattering as a giant wave, each gasped breath the whip of a hurricane. Tree stood before him, the mountainous man’s black skin stark against the canvas of fog around the ship. Ghost batted him aside. Tree flew across the deck and struck the mainmast, the grunt as he hit not masking the sound of wood cracking.
The captain reached the bow and kicked at Maurilio, who was already making repairs to the railing shattered by the Charon’s cannon. The dark-eyed man jumped back, but Ghost’s next kick caught him across the thighs. He bounced from the railing and tumbled to the deck, motionless, subservient beneath the glare of his attacker. But Ghost had no particular target for his rage. He was angry at the world, and his world was this ship and those who sailed it.
Now, we go now! Jack thought. He had to fetch Sabine first. He eyed the doorway leading down, thinking quickly through what he had to do and how long it would take. A fool’s errand, he knew, and as he took in a deep breath in preparation, Louis spoke from across the deck.
“Be still, Jack.” It was whispered but sounded loud against the silence on the ship. Ghost’s rage had driven all noise down, and even the sea appeared calmer than before, as if afraid of this great beast’s fury.
The captain stormed back along the ship, punching a hole in the forecastle bulkhead, glancing left and right as he came. He had caught Tree and Maurilio on the way to the bow, but returning he found no one in his way.
Pausing by the doorway, gripping the frame so hard that the wood was crushed to splinters in his fist, he turned and looked directly at Jack.
He sees right into me, Jack thought, and he had never felt so exposed.
“Make sail,” Ghost grunted. “South, at all speed. We’re going after him. It’s time.”
He disappeared below, and a breeze whipped a skein of fog across the deck as the ship sighed with relief.
Jack prowled the deck above the rear cabins, circling Vukovich at the wheel, watching the other men work, seeing Tree’s massive shadow as he helped Maurilio repair the damage at the bow, and his frustration and desperation were close to destroying him. Sabine was below with Ghost, and there was nothing he could do. He possessed both brawn and brains, but knew that it was only the latter that would save him and Sabine from a terrible fate. His frustration was in not being able to conceive of a plan that would result in anything other than their deaths.
Kelly was close by, and Jack had already caught that sly one looking his way more than once. With Ghost engaged below—and the thought of what he might be doing down there was terrible to Jack, abhorrent, because though he knew the monster would not kill Sabine while he still needed her, Ghost was not averse to torture—Jack felt the crew’s antagonism toward him coming to the fore. He had never felt himself truly under Ghost’s protection until that protection was absent. Vukovich sneered when Jack tried giving him an order, and Kelly’s glances were becoming more and more threatening. Jack was sure he detected a slight lengthening of Kelly’s teeth, and a prominence in his nose absent before now.
When he heard Sabine’s scream, he was almost grateful it gave him reason to rush below. Whatever would happen, would happen now—no more pretense.