by Andrew Wyld (andrewwyld)
Oliver's tiredness was making his head droop against the inner wall of the cupboard, but he knew he must keep awake long enough to hear the men complete their conversation. Something told him that the far greater secret held by those log books would turn out to be a far more dangerous secret as well -- but one which could hold the key to his escape. Not for the first time, he regretted the mistakes which had got him into this mess, but an old intuition which had helped him through his apprentice years as a pickpocket was the best hope he had for getting out again, and this intuition was telling him he had to know what was on those manuscripts.
The two men had turned aside from Resarge's log and were talking about mundane matters -- rationing the food for the voyage, the petty offences of a few members of the crew. Oliver put his eye to a crack in the boards to look into what he now saw was Hilt's cabin. The log was almost within arm's reach of Oliver. Hope dawned in his mind -- he felt certain that, if he could get the boards prised apart, if something distracted the two men for a moment, if ....
Suddenly, Seribro's bird, which had been scratching around in a pile of seed on the table, started and looked over at Oliver. It cocked its head on one side, and then croaked loudly.
"What 'a' ye seen, Bosun? What 'a' ye seen, eh?" said Seribro, and at that moment Oliver decided that he would be sleeping somewhere else. He came out of the closet and closed the door as quietly as he could, then ran fast toward the stern of the ship -- he had not been a thief for so long without learning how to run silently.
[the bloody text editor deleted a large chunk of my best writing! AAAAAAUGHH! This is a reconstruction from memory, and it isn't as good. Oh, woe ....]
When he caught his breath again, Oliver realized he was back by the door of Seribro's cabin. He remembered with bitterness the First Mate's having told him to go and sleep with the men. This was not a scheme Oliver found congenial. That scholar was allowed to sleep in Seribro's cabin -- well, why not him, too? He was just as vulnerable, and one or too of the sailors looked like they might prefer a tender young boy to a tender young girl. Oliver supposed that the favouritism was something to do with the girl-priest's translation ability ...
... and then it struck him. There was no need to get hold of the original of Resarge's log when a copy of the translation was all he needed ...
Oliver moved quickly, knowing that Seribro might be along at any moment -- although the disturbance in Hilt's cabin had surely bought him a few seconds. He opened the cabin door quickly and quietly. The priest was curled up on Seribro's bunk, snivelling pathetically. Her eyes opened wide when she saw Oliver, but she obeyed his gestured command to silence.
Oliver wasn't very good at threats, so he tried to look menacing as he drew near to the bunk. The girl-priest didn't look very convinced, but stayed silent all the same.
"Listen to me -- I think I can help you, if you help me ... don't say anything, just nod or shake. Have you any idea what they want you for?"
"You realize that once they've finished with you, they intend to kill you?"
A nod, trembling.
"Well, what they want you for has something to do with me, too, and I want out. If you help me, I think I can get us both out of here. I need to know what's in that log they want you to translate." A pause. "Have you seen what's in the log?"
Nothing."Come on, come on! I need you to help me ..."
... and then the footfall in the corridor.
Heart pounding, the fear of death, of worse than death, and the moment stretching, extending for an eternity of still instants, and yet not quite for long enough.
Oliver dove headlong into a locker, hoping the chaos of charts, bottles and misplaced junk might afford some kind of a hiding place. He managed to get the door closed just as Seribro entered the room.
He heard Bosun cawing close by, and in a heartbeat, he knew it was over.
When he still hadn't been discovered half a minute later, Oliver realized that he was overdue to breathe.
He sat up in the dark. He could hear a voice speaking outside the door -- gentler in quality than Seribro's harshly accented speech. It was a puzzling voice, and seemed not quite to belong to the sea -- indeed, not quite to belong anywhere. It was almost the template of a voice. As Oliver looked through a crack in the cupboard door, he was somehow not very surprised to discover that the voice belonged to Seribro himself.
Seribro was talking to the girl -- he seemed to be reassuring her. She looked surprised by the change in him, but not unpleasantly. Oliver couldn't hear very much of what Seribro was saying, but caught enough to realize that Seribro was telling the girl it would be alright, that he would not allow her to be killed. Oliver wondered how Hilt would like that, coming from his First Mate.
Seribro then started making ready to sleep, and Oliver realized he was just going to have to wait until the lantern was extinguished, and then creep out silently while Seribro slumbered. He was beginning to wonder if he would get any sleep himself at all -- with the men or otherwise.
The clanging of the ship's bell woke Oliver, who had slept fitfully beneath a quilt of charts. In shock, he almost fell out of the locker, but recovered himself just in time. The girl was still sleeping, Seribro was breaking his fast, and Oliver was supposed to be swabbing decks in ten minutes. Seribro looked in no hurry to leave, and Oliver realized that he was going to have either to make his presence known or to risk being caught out -- late for duty. A quick mental calculation suggested either one was going to mean the lash.
A knock at the cabin door brought Seribro to his feet. It was Hilt.
"Have you seen that boy?"
Seribro paused. "I told him to go and sleep with the men. They'll know where he is."
They both got up to leave, and Oliver realized he was going to make it on deck in time after all. In his relief he relaxed, and a small avalanche of charts beneath him caused a clearly audible rustling in the cabin.
"Must tidy up that locker," said Seribro, looking straight at Oliver through the crack in locker door as he ushered Hilt from the cabin.
Well, it's been a while coming ... hope it's OK. I was getting too control-freaky and wanting to bring in the lost prince and stuff, and make Seribro kind of Goblin-king-y, but I've decided to leave it much more open-ended.