Licking of Wounds
-Blue Man Group
Dice opened the door to the makeshift infirmary hall. "RED!" he shouted, looking desperately down the hallway. Over the noise of the wounded his yell did attract some attention. A black and white arm waived in the air. Dice winced as he ran over to see Red. He stopped, looking at the cat like a wounded puppy. "Is he all right?"
"He'll be fine." Treble said, holding Red's arm outstretched. "A lot of the wounded have started to heal faster now. Is it over?"
"It's over." Dice said with some relief, looking at Red. "What happened to him? I didn't see him get brought in."
"Doc said it was a broken arm." Treble said. "He told me to hold it like this so it'll heal right."
"Don't forget the knife." Red said weakly. "That hurt taking out."
"You shush." Dice said with a tender smile, offering to take Red's paw from Treble. "Your job is to get better."
"You're bleeding." Red said through a haze of pain.
"It'll heal." Dice said, holding Red's paw in his. "So will you."
Red nodded. "Just like old times love." Red grinned widely as Dice did too. "But you're the one helping me heal up."
Dice held Red's arm outstretched. "Shh." he said. "Rest now, the worst is over." Red closed his eyes, and weakly held Dice's paw in his own as he tried to rest. Dice looked dup to Treble. "Any idea if we've lost any crew?"
Treble drooped his head slightly, and looked at Red. He closed his eyes and nodded solemnly. "I'll know more later." he said. Dice knew what the insinuation was, and let it drop. "I need to help Robert with some of the crew here, if you've got this under control?" Dice nodded, and the cat left silently.
Mutt removed the bandages from Bullseye as he shook his head weakly. "Hurts." Bullseye said through clenched teeth.
"It's gonna." Mutt said. "Not much I can do about it." Bullseye whimpered as Mutt pulled the last linen from what was a large open wound minutes earlier. He rubbed his paw along Bullseye's side, and saw that the scar was vanishing. Maria was doing her usual handiwork. "What were ya thinkin'?" Mutt asked Bullseye.
"Had to save Red." Bullseye said, trying not to roll to get away from the pain. "He got stabbed a lotta times, I had to do something. Dice wouldn't know what to do if Red was gone."
Mutt nodded to himself. He knew the feeling. "Hey, look, it's good you did, but next time grab a weapon or something."
"I did, 'guvvner." Bullseye said with a weak grin. "I borrowed one of their guns." Mutt snickered with the terrier. "If ya gonna name me Bullseye I may as well live up to it, aye?"
Mutt shook his head with a smile. "You'll be fine. Rest for a bit, kay?"
On the top deck Rev stood over another body of a fallen crew member. One of the Jackrats this time. He knelt next to him and gave last rights. He stopped counting the dead after the first dozen. He stopped noticing if it was a raider, a howler, a jackrat, or anyone else after the second dozen. When Rev stood up he saw Yars helping to collect the fallen.
Rev walked next to Yars. "Do you get used to it?"
"Never." Yars said. "Nothing can ever make you comfortable with it. If you ever do, it's gotten to you." The tiger shook his head. "All this for gold."
Rev nodded. "Should I remind you that wars have been fought over less?"
"No, I know it." Yars said. "We've placed the surviving raiders into the brig for now. We'll figure out what to do with them in a few days, after we bury the dead."
"Where's Vermin?" Rev asked. "Have you seen him?"
Yars nodded, and pointed to the aft side of the deck. "Over there. We haven't gotten around to him yet."
"Is he wounded?" Rev asked. Yars shook his head. Rev's body slumped, and he took in a deep sigh. "I was afraid of that."
"Of what?" Yars asked.
Rev shook his head. "There are some things I can't tell you." Rev said. "This is one of them."
"You have that right." Yars said. "And I will respect that."
"I would like to give him his last rights." Rev said. Yars raised his head, and twitched his ears back. "I have my reasons."
Yars nodded. "If you think he would have wanted it, feel free."
The mood aboard the ship is a somber reality. After yesterday's raid we're all feeling the strain emotionally. The hired men that Captain Wallworth brought are for the most part dead or dying on the ship. We have taken the unpleasant task of burial at sea for those who never made it on the ship. A lot of concern, however, is concerning the Captain. Most of the men were paid in advance, but the remainder of the money promised to them may now never come. With Captain Wallworth on the Maria, he can no longer pay us our due.
Jenny has been trying to keep morale upbeat by cooking, she is a wonderful cook. My own mum would have never done this well with what she has to work with. She's eager to return home, as the rest of us are at this point. We all want to put this behind us.
My promise to the Captain of the Maria was to at least wait a few days for a signal we could approach again. I will honor that, for him. But as soon as we can return home, we will. Since nobody else wanted the responsibility, I have assumed captaincy in the short term until we can establish some kind of order. I hope to make it to shore in one piece.
"As you were." Yars spoke solemnly. The assembled crew did several things. Some cried, some held each other, others cursed quietly at themselves, or walked away still feeling numb. Forty-five crew buried at sea. The ceremony was long, as each name was announced, and words were spoken.
At dinner that night, Rev was eating quietly next to Tzo. Their normal discussion was glaringly absent, as was most other conversation. The gaps at tables spoke more than anyone could say otherwise. Abacus walked up to Rev, and tapped him on the shoulder once. "That was a nice ceremony." he said. "But where did you find anything to say about Vermin?"
Rev shrugged. "Why did you let him out of his bonds?" Abacus raised an eyebrow, but shrugged himself. "We all have our reasons." Rev said. "We all have our burdens. And we all have our inspirations." Abacus nodded, putting his paw onto Rev's shoulder and squeezing it before leaving him with Tzo.
That night, the ship was strangely quiet. Rev knew it would happen, but wasn't prepared for the deafening silence. He went to the small chapel and opened the doors and windows to the night. He stood, alone, in the room, and looked around, lost in thoughts
"As I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil. For thou are with me."
Rev opened the door to the chapel slowly. He was about to lock it down until he heard someone speaking inside. Rev looked in, and saw a Jackrat kneeling before the wooden cross on the wall, head bowed. He wore a black cape with red trim, had a rapier on his hip, and black pants with red trim as well.
"Your rod and your staff, they comfort me." He spoke with dignity, with meaning. "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever." The Jackrat bowed his head slightly, and looked up to the wall, and the cross upon it.
"Psalm 23?" Rev asked aloud. Vermin turned his head fast. "I didn't expect you to know anything from The Book."
"There's a lot about me that would surprise you." Vermin said. "Would you be surprised if you knew I was an altar boy in my church?" Rev tilted his head to the side slightly. "Thought it would."
"You're lying to me, aren't you?" Rev asked, somewhat sternly.
Vermin stood up, and collected his hat from the pew along with a wooden cup. "You live any lie long enough and it becomes the truth. It gets believed and then everyone knows it as the real truth." He was about to step to the door, but stopped. "I want something from you." he said.
"And what is that?" Rev asked, still stern.
"Forgiveness." Vermin said. "I want forgiveness."
"You want forgiveness or absolution?" Rev asked.
"DAMMIT!" Vermin screamed. "I only want that ONE THING!"
Rev stood upright, and clutched his book tight. "Somehow, I can't believe that."
Vermin exhaled a long breath. "Close the door." Rev squinted slightly. "Please. Close the door."
Rev's ears tingled as he heard that. He closed the door behind him. "I've never heard you say that before and mean it."
"I know you're not one to offer a confession to." Vermin said, sitting in one of the pews slowly. He placed his hat and cup next to him as well. "But I want to tell someone. You're a man of the Lord, at least I have that to trust you. I want to tell someone, but promise me you won't tell anyone else." Rev nodded, and sat down in an opposite pew of Vermin. "Same goes to you bitch!" He pointed at the ceiling. "I know you can hear me, you don't tell a soul what I'm telling Rev."
"I have broken all ten commandments." Vermin said softly. "I have enjoyed all seven deadly sins. I have violated women, and men, for my pleasure. And what can I show for myself? Hmm?" He looked to his claws. "A rat on a ship where I was feared once. But now… Now that is over." Vermin put his hands into his lap. "And now that it is, I looked for what I leave in this world, and it's nothing."
They sat alone in the silence for a minute. "For years I thought God was dead." Vermin said. "I lost my family to sickness many years ago. I was told that the Lord had them in a better place, but I prayed to him to listen. I prayed with all I had so they would live. I thought I failed them, but then I decided that God did."
Vermin stood up, and spread his arms slightly. He put his hat on, and stood before Rev. "That is when I decided to pick my fate, and that since there was no God, there could be a devil. And since I was real, I would embrace that. Meet Carmesí Diablo." Vermin twirled slowly in his place, displaying himself to Rev. "The Crimson Devil. Plunderer of the seas, and the most feared man on the Indian Ocean."
Rev only nodded as Vermin sat back down. "Fear is real. God is not, you see. You can't touch God, but fear gets you things. Very real things." Vermin said factually, looking up to the cross. "And since I could get what I wanted through fear, there was no reason to think I couldn't use fear as a very real Carmesí Diablo. Women, drink, food, ships… all was there if I just took it. And I did." Vermin smiled to himself, laughing a little in the memory of it all. "Oh I did…"
"But I was cocky." Vermin said, obviously enjoying the memories. "It only takes a little, doesn't it? We took on a ship that I thought we could overtake easily, and I was wrong. I lost most of my men in the fight. We retreated to my ship and we tried to run for it. We took a cannonball, then water."
Vermin reached to the cup at his side, and took another drink from it. He spoke, but never faced Rev. "I assumed we were dead men on the water. We made a run for a shore, but fate intervened and Maria crossed us. We didn't fly our flag, and she offered us a chance at life with the curse. I didn't believe it. Nobody does, do they? On the first day I saw the gold, all three rooms filled with the coins and I knew I could just sail her into port and disembark with it."
Suddenly, Vermin turned to face the rabbit. "But here's the brilliant part of the plan." He pointed in the air to make each point. "We had convinced them we were not pirates, but mercenaries on the way back from a battle. So they didn't lock us up. The crew then was small, only fifty or so. And most were merchants by trade, and not seasoned fighters. So we offered ourselves as a sort of standing army for the crew. And they bought it!" Vermin laughed again, and Rev sat, fascinated. "We had run of the ship!"
"Rose ran the ship differently than Yars does." Vermin said, nodding to himself. "She was very trusting, and her crew followed suit. You know that in the first few hours of being on board we were offered sex?" Rev raised an eyebrow. "Not from Rose, but from others. I figured we were stuck, and why not indulge in it? So I did, and became a new man. Or rat, depending on how you look at it. So if I was not to be a devil, I would be an embodiment vermin. So I renamed myself that. Vermin."
"Once we knew we were rats we befriended the other Jackrats. It was easy enough to teach them to fight. Fast learners all." Vermin slumped into the pew again, and took another sip from his cup. "A few days later, after we were rescued, the ship I tried to raid decided to take on the Maria. On that raid we saw that the others on the boat were useless in fighting, but us rats were the ultimate force on the ship. The Howlers were still small then, and they were more a group that enjoyed sex under the full moon and sleeping together as a pack than the fighting force they are now."
"But in that fight, the Jackrat leader died. So I assumed the role." Vermin nodded, thinking of it. "Not like the others objected, they liked a strong man in command. They needed discipline, and I gave it to them." Rev opened his mouth, and Vermin put his hand up again. "Don't stop me, I may reconsider what I want to say." Rev nodded, and listened. "A few days after the raid, we figured out that I had the ability to make Jackrats. Not that I minded, it just meant I could make my own army from men trapped here. So after I had enough men, we took over. It was easy enough to throw the crew into the brig and keep them there."
"Unlucky for me, Yars came on board a few weeks after I arrived, and a few days after I took control of the Maria." Vermin leaned forward, and looked at the claws on his fingers. "I've never seen anyone fight like he does. All the rage. The passion within him. Ahh, I wish he were a pirate and not a military man. I would have liked to fight along side him." Vermin laughed to himself again. "But you probably know that story. I'm told it's infamous among the Howlers." Rev nodded mechanically.
"It was a few years of wound healing that brought me to where I had been. I convinced my men of some lies, and they believed me. A lot of the world is about telling the good lie, you know." Vermin said, leaning back and motioning to the top deck. "Like right now. I heard Yars was promised he could meet some woman. I assume it was a wife?" Vermin looked to Rev with an amused look.
"Fiancée, I've been told." Rev said.
"Ahh, that's the game." Vermin said. "So being the trusting and lovesick captain, he'll go to their ship to meet her rather than risk her coming on board here. Once he's there they'll hold him in a cell, or somewhere, while they raid the ship. Without the captain, they'll think the crew is weak and without direction." He smiled to himself. "I trained my men better than that."
Vermin paused, and Rev spoke up. "How do you know this?"
"Because it's something I would have done." Vermin said with a head nod. "Yars is a good captain but he's far too trusting and by the book." Vermin stopped. "Not like I am, or was. What the Jackrats know as Vermin is not the man who sits here. I have lived the lie as Carmesí Diablo, I lived the lie as Vermin, and now that the lie is gone I'm left with what is not, not what is."
They sat, together. Vermin looked up to the cross again. He nodded to himself, and stood up facing the rabbit. "Which is why I will do what I will do. And it's why I want your forgiveness. Not for what I've done to the ship, or the world, I can live with that. But I want forgiveness for what I almost did to you. And to him." Vermin gestured towards the cross.
"I can forgive you for that." Rev said, and Vermin's body showed his relief. "But what's to say you're not lying to me now?"
"Nothing." Vermin said. "Only the one thing I've lost a long time ago. Faith in what you can't touch." Vermin turned, picking up his hat and his cup. "If I'm right, and I almost always am, I know what the other ship will be doing after Yars leaves the Maria. And when they do, there is one thing I can do that might earn me some forgiveness among the crew. I can turn them back, or at last keep the pile of bodies low enough so that my men won't be a depleted resource. I'm still the best swordsman on the ship. I can do in a minute what it would take ten dogs ten minutes."
Vermin walked to the center aisle, and walked towards the door. He then turned around to face Rev. "Do not stop me. The fire might consume you. And do not tell the others. They probably would either try to stop me in some noble cause or more than likely never believe you. The most selfish man on the ship is about to do the most unselfish act to save the crew."
Rev's face drained of blood as the insinuation hit him full force. "You don't have to die today." Rev said.
"I'm already dead." Vermin said. "It's about time the body caught up with the soul."
"Why?" Rev asked.
Vermin took another sip from the cup, and looked at the empty bottom. "You know what I'll miss? Maria makes the best fucking rum." He tapped the cup. "But why?" Vermin looked to the cross again. "Because when I stand naked before my maker, and he judges my life, I want to hear him say to me "You've led an evil life, and you're going to hell for that. But at least you had one good moment at the end." That…" Vermin pointed at the heavens with his left hand, pointing for emphasis. "THAT is what I want to hear."
Vermin looked at the empty cup again, and readjusted the straps on his belt. He tapped the pommel of his rapier, and checked the pistols. "But I have a few minutes, so I'm going back to drink more rum before the raid begins. I always did fight better drunk." He laughed to himself one last time as he made his way out of the chapel.
Rev shook his head. The room was still empty, with the moonlight shining into the stained glass windows. He knelt down before the cross and began to pray for the souls of those departed.
Mutt laid on the floor in Kindles lap in the Howler's communal area. Mutt was relaxing as Kindle stroked his neck and shoulders, kissing him occasionally on the head. "Why d'ya think he did it?" Mutt asked.
"Does it matter?" Kindle asked.
"Well I'm kinda curious." Mutt said. "I mean, he coulda let him shoot us. He didn't. And you, of everyone." Mutt said.
"I know." Kindle said. "I'm trying not to think of it." Mutt nodded, and just enjoyed Kindles' hands on his shoulders. Both perked their ears at the entryway, sensing something was wrong.
"What makes you think you're welcome here?" Butch said, trying to look menacing.
"Nothing." Sam said. "But I need to speak to a few people, and I want to do it tonight."
"Wait 'till morning." Butch said. Sam stood in the doorway, unmoving. "Don't make me remove you."
"You could." Sam said. "And I won't fight you. But I need to speak to Ironbar and Kindle, and I would like to speak to them tonight." Butch didn't move, and put his paw on the door to close it. "Please. I do believe it's that important."
Butch stopped, his body reeling back slightly at the words. He looked back into the den, and saw Ironbar looking at him. Butch motioned with his head to Sam, and Ironbar got up. Ironbar stood at the door with Sam. "Is this private?"
"No." Sam said. "There have been too many secrets." Ironbar nodded, and motioned for Sam to come in. Sam walked in, and looked around. "We need to talk about some things." Sam said. "First I am sorry for the losses that the Howlers have incurred from yesterday's fighting."
"We knew the risks." Ironbar said, walking with Sam to some chairs. "Thank you. I understand the Jackrats had many losses as well." Sam nodded. "I'm sorry to hear of those too."
Sam nodded as he sat down with Ironbar. "Thank you. But we have a new problem now. Some of the Jackrats may revert to human form. I heard them talk of Chris, who is now Kindle, correct?" Ironbar nodded. "If this happens, you may be getting some more Howlers like Kindle, who were once Jackrats. I would like to know if you could help them make the transition."
"We can certainly try." Ironbar said. "Do you think they will all become dogs?"
"I don't know." Sam said. "The few that admitted that Maria didn't look like a rat have all been worried they would never be accepted if they did."
"But we all saw Maria was a dog like we…" Ironbar stopped, thinking about it. "Oh. I think I understand."
Sam nodded. "I know the bad blood between us is thick, but I also know we both fought side by side yesterday. It won't be easy, but I'd like to put out the olive branch and have some kind of peace, or relationship between us."
"So, you're the new leader?" Ironbar asked.
"Not really." Sam said. "Yars is comfortable speaking with me, and I like to think you are as well. So I am acting as more the voice of the Jackrats. I speak our views, but I am not making decisions on my own agenda." Sam shrugged. "If they want me as their leader, then so be it. But for now, we hurt as a family, and I don't want to see fighting within ourselves as shipmates."
"How do I know you're telling the truth?" Ironbar asked.
Sam shrugged. "Time will tell all." he said. "I understand that you can't wash away bad feelings overnight. But I also understand we're all stuck here, together. I would rather our time spent as family, not enemies." Sam looked around the room. "And some of my old shipmates are here in this room. We have had our disagreements, but they're still the men I sailed with on the Rena. And when you spend a week clinging to life with some men like them, you don't forget it because someone told you to. That means more to me than the rivalry on this ship."
Sam looked back to Ironbar. "Time heals all wounds." he said. "I'd like to give us all that time." Ironbar nodded. "I would like to speak with Kindle as well, if he wouldn't mind?" A few moments later, Sam was being led to the corner that Kindle and Mutt were in. "Thank you for seeing me."
Kindle nodded slightly. "You got guts coming up here." he said.
Sam knelt on the floor with Kindle. "No more than you did facing Vermin as you did." Sam hung his head low. "I'm sorry I didn't do more to stop him."
"You did what you could." Kindle said. "Of everyone here, I understand what he was like."
Sam nodded. "There is one small thing to attend to, Jackrat business." Mutt tensed up, but Kindle pressed on his shoulder gently. "I understand you were once one of us." Kindle nodded. "Then you know the rules of the Jackrats as well."
Kindle nodded. "I don't see what that has to do with me."
"Rule one." Sam said. "You kill the leader, you become the leader." Kindle looked confused. "What you did when he was locked in the stocks was much more effective a weapon of death than the ball that ended his life. By my reasoning, that would make you the leader of the Jackrats."
Kindle snickered to himself, at the irony of it. "And if I refuse to be the leader?"
Sam smiled. "Then we fall back on the old ways. I have a journal from before Vermin's time. A man named Darvis, one of the original Jackrats. He talked of the old ways, how things had been before Vermin took over."
Kindle looked at Mutt, and smiled. "Then thank you, but no thank you. I like my new position."
Sam nodded. "I hoped you would. Thank you." Sam stood up. "I need to get back down to our quarters, but I need to make one more stop on my rounds tonight." Sam offered his hand. "I know we've hurt you, and for that I'm sorry. But I'd like to offer some kind of resolution, and move on from there. I want to build a future, not live in the past." Kindle took Sam's hand, and shook it.
"I'm sorry, I don't believe I heard you right." Yars said to Sam. "You want to move the Jackrats?"
"Yes sir." Sam said. "Storage room three is empty, I'd like to make that our new quarters."
"Any reason for the change?" Yars asked.
"Yes sir." Sam said. "Speaking selfishly, I don't want to be down there the rest of my life. Speaking for the group, we feel that it will do us some good to change our surroundings, and distance ourselves from Vermin's influence. And speaking as a crew member, I feel it would serve our duties better if we were closer to the deck we work on."
Yars ran a thumb over his muzzle, thinking. "I would like to consider that." Sam nodded. "Is there anything else you'd like to do?"
"No sir." Sam said. "Possibly see my old captain. I have a feeling I will need his guidance in the near future. I'm not used to leading men, but I think I'm being placed in a position where I will."
Yars nodded slowly, solemnly. "Never take a mentor for granted." he said. Sam nodded. "If I authorize this, when would you like to move?"
"As soon as possible." Sam said. "We can be ready to leave the old quarters in an hour if need be."
"I would like to get Ironbar's opinion on this." Yars said. "That's a deck down from their den."
"Understood." Sam said. "We will wait for your go ahead, Captain." The Jackrat got up for the door. "Thank you for your time, Captain. I know it's late, and I appreciate this."
Yars smiled, and shook his head. "I don't know if I'll be comfortable with a polite Jackrat." the tiger said with a chuckle.
"I can be an ass, if that makes it easier Captain?" Sam asked. Yars shook his head, laughing out loud. "Thank you again, Captain. I look forward to a long stay on the Maria."
Yars nodded. "As you were then. I will get back to you as soon as I can speak with Ironbar." Sam nodded, and left quietly.
Abacus snuggled into Robert's chest fur, cooing contentedly as the cat groomed his ears. Abacus rubbed his muzzle lovingly into Robert, feeling him purr. Robert licked Abacus's ear gently, then pulled back a little. "In the mood to talk?" Robert asked.
"A little." Abacus said. "It's still on your mind, isn't it?"
"It is." Robert said. "I'm a little bothered about it."
"Why? He's gone, and it's over." Abacus said, cuddling in gently.
"Yes." Robert said. "But I don't understand it. From all that Kindle and Mutt said, it sounded like he left himself wide open. I thought he was better than that."
Abacus looked up, and into Robert's eyes. "He let himself go." Abacus said. Robert looked confused, and Abacus sat up slightly. "He lost his pride, his men, his ability to scare the crew, and everything else he had. And in the end, he took the only thing he had left. His life."
Robert looked a little shocked. "It was suicide?"
Abacus shook his head. "In his mind he may have thought he was doing us a favor, but he took the only thing he had control over. His destiny."
"How do you know?" Robert asked.
"I know." Abacus said, trying not to sound angry. "Selfish men never change. Especially when there's something to be gained. Why do you think I gave up practicing law in the first place?"
Robert grinned widely. "I thought it was because we both got trapped here, fell madly in love, and decided the rest of the world didn't matter anymore?"
"Touché." Abacus said, gently poking Robert in the ribs. "But I was getting out of that." Robert nodded. "No, I know differently about people. Especially the ones who think the world owes them everything." Abacus rolled his tail around Robert's hips, letting his naked body touch Robert's. "If I said don't worry about it anymore, would you?"
"I would." Robert said softly, rubbing his paw along Abacus's chest ruff. "But you know that." Abacus nodded, reserved about Robert's mind and how it worked. "But I'll think about it later, not right now. I have more important things to think about." Robert bought his paw around Abacus, and brought his mate's muzzle to his own for a deep kiss.
Next Chapter (Consequences)
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Being a work of fiction, none of the characters herin are based on a real person. Any similarity to any person alive, dead, undead or unalive is coincidental, totally. However, if you see yourself or someone you know in a character be honored. You've been immortalised.