Mortem pulled Vale to her feet, gripping her arm tightly. She stared up at Mortem and felt tiny, as he towered over her. She never felt so small in her entire life. Mortem was easily seven feet tall, with arms twice the size of her own. Vale felt foolish and embarrassed as she looked up at the captain.
“A wee small one, ain’t ye?” Mortem laughed. “Are ye deaf? I thought I said that I have no room on this ship.”
“You said you had enough help, you never said you didn’t have room.”
Mortem stared Vale down, eyes narrowed in challenge. “Small and brave.” He pulled her to the starboard side of the ship, the heels of her feet dragging along the ground. Then yanking her into the air, he held her over the side of the ship with ease. Vale’s legs dangled through the air, at the mercy of Mortem’s mood. Mortem gave her an cold glare, clearly angry at her unwelcome presence.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t throw ye right over the side of me ship. I don’t ’ave time to turn around. This isn’t a game.”
“I will work to earn my place on this ship,” Vale answered with all the confidence she could muster.
“That doesn’t make ye special. That makes ye better than a layabout.” He loosened his grip slightly letting Vale slip slightly downward. She bit back a scream. “I ’ave no jobs left on this ’ere ship. So unless ye can do a job better than one of me own trained crew...”
Vale gripped his arm with her hands, trying to keep herself from slipping further as he threatened to drop her again. “Let me be the lookout!” she shouted, trying to stay calm. She knew he would be angry that she snuck on board, but hanging thousands of feet above the ground made it hard to think. A bird flew past making her question her life choices for a moment.
Mortem’s eyes glinted with amusement at her absurd suggestion. “We don’t need a lookout. That is what our weather GPS is for.”
Vale took a large breath and spoke again, ignoring every instinct in her body to shut up. “So you lied then.”
The noise on the ship suddenly died as the crew heard the accusation. All of their eyes turned to stare at Vale hanging off the side of the ship, shock clear on their faces. No one accused the captain, especially a person on the edge of being flung off the ship.
Mortem’s grip tightened, his dark brown eyes burrowing into Vale’s. “What did ye call me girl?”
Vale felt her heart beat fast in her chest, but tried to keep her demeanor calm, “If this is a ship run on a full human crew, then wouldn’t it be cheating to have a weather GPS telling you where the storms are?” Vale removed a hand from Mortem’s arm, waving her arm across an invisible headline. “I can already see the news, ‘Captain Mortem, a liar who can’t find lightning without the help of a weather GPS.” She stared back at Mortem in challenge. “He needs technology just like everyone else.’”
Mortem moved faster than Vale had expected, yanking her back onto the ship and brought her face inches from his own. Vale could smell Mortem’s foul breath. Her eyes began to water from the smell of liver and onions that filled her nostrils, but she looked at Mortem unfazed, waiting for his next move.
“I do not do well with threats girl.” He dropped her back onto the ground. Her legs buckled in relief, sending her to her knees. “Ye realize that outwitting a weather GPS with no knowledge of the sky’s nature is a fool’s mission,” Mortem asked standing above her, his face lost in shadow as the sun hallowed him from behind.
Vale didn’t answer for a moment, taking in several deep breaths, calming her racing heart. “I have been learning. Reading-.”
Mortem and his crew laughed into the sky. Their judgmental glee sounding like aggressive barking, filling Vale’s ears with loud echos of embarrassment. “Readin’ will not be ’elpful ’ere.”
Mortem crouched and stared at Vale, his next words a growl. “If ye fail, I will throw ye off me ship and I make no plans to make that drop close to the ground. If ye don’t accept, stay below deck and out of me way.”
Vale’s heart was beating hard, blood roaring in her ears, betraying her calm exterior. She was quiet for a moment, aware of the weight in her next words. If she said yes, she could die. If she said no, she would be banished below deck.
“I accept,” Vale said, her jaw tense, her voice oddly calm.
Mortem stood up to his full height, a hint of surprise registering on his face. “What be ye name?” Mortem barked.
Vale stumbled to her feet, trying to steady herself before answering. “Vale. Vale Vita.”
Mortem nodded, assessing the name. “Ye ’ave earned a place on me ship.” Mortem growled. “For now.” He turned away. “Be our blasted lookout.”