Plagued

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Terrason

Another robber relieved Jethrow for a few hours and he returned with his hand wrapped in thick bandages. Creases of pain lined his snarling face and he had a harder time sitting still in the days that followed, often making animalistic noises of frustration and annoyance.

Noddie tried not to stare at Jethrow’s crippled hand, as he swelled with anger every time he caught her looking at it. She was still fearful that Jethrow might blame her for his misfortune and take his anger out on her once the stress became too much. She had seen enough aboard this floating nightmare to expect the most sadistic responses.

Mordekah did not call for her again and there was no sign of Phil since the fight in the galley. A different robber brought their meals (for which Noddie was grateful.)

Four days later, an hour or two after supper, a cry echoed throughout the ship that land was in sight.

Terrason.

A man appeared at the door. “Mordekah wants everyone up on deck. Bring the girl.”

Without a word Jethrow pulled her up with his right hand and led her from the room. Noddie gave the place a backward glance before she passed through the doorway. Dread settled in her heart, and she wished she could stay in the small, empty room, which looked much safer now that she was being forced to leave.

Most, if not all, of the robbers were already on deck, manning the ship or else gazing over the railing with hungry excitement. Noddie spotted Phil in the crowd, his face disfigured by a long scabbed cut. He most certainly had a few stitches. When he looked her way Noddie quickly averted her gaze.

The clouds overhead were as dark and dense as smoke, the waves choppy, and in front of them was a dark mass dotted here and there with flickering light, like a monster with numerous yellow eyes.

The waters before the island became a treacherous obstacle course as the Tempest maneuvered around massive slabs of stone jutting out of the water like tombstones. Wedged between rocks or scattered below the surface, lay the remains of lost and devastated ships, their rotting wood eaten away by the relentless tide. Jagged masts leaned over the water like crude spears.

As the ship crept nearer, the flickering lights became torches, set to light narrow pathways and bridges. The island was populated with overgrown foliage, gigantic trees, and wooden structures. On the far side of the island was a stone fortress, its upper half blown clean away. The ruins emanated a sense of power and fear despite its crumbled, decayed form.

The Tempest docked in a deep bay. Ropes were thrown and orders yelled at dark figures on the shore.

It took a long time to secure the ship and unload. A robber with scabby hands had to help lift Noddie onto the dock. Once on solid ground this new robber dragged her by the hair to Mordekah.

“Mordekah, what’s to be done with the girl? Shall I place her in the pit?”

Mordekah turned, light and shadow writhing over his smiling face.

“Why Rufus, I wouldn’t dream of treating a guest so.” There was a mockery of kindness in his voice that Noddie didn’t like. “Put her in the north tree house. I shall send for her tomorrow. Jethrow, you are relived of your duties for the time being.”

Jethrow made no comment and Rufus lost no time in guiding Noddie inland.

Sunbeams pieced through the cracks in the wooden walls and thatched roof of the shack, pulling Noddie from a fitful sleep. The jungle outside was busy with chattering birds and a shrill cry of a monkey. She was alone at last. It was a relief to be out from under Jethrow’s constant gaze. But such was her sole consolation as despair squeezed in around her. She dreaded this morning as she never dreaded anything before. Today she would discover her fate.

“No matter what happens,” she whispered to herself, “I will pretend I am brave.”

There was a thump outside and the door was thrown open.

“Rise and shine, girly!”

Rufus had returned to fetch her with a second robber to tail behind, breathing down her neck. The jungle didn’t look any more welcoming in daylight then it had shrouded in darkness. Fire had spotted the area, leaving black skeletons of trees and boulders. Severe cuts had been hatched into some of the remaining trees and the ground itself bore long trenches and jagged scars.

They reached a clearing where a small town had been built. Several robbers were slumped in a drunken sleep against porch pillars, a stone well, and in balconies. Through the windows of the largest building, Noddie spotted Jethrow sitting at a table, wide-awake. He was fingering an odd gold coin between his thumb and forefinger, frowning at the tabletop so intently that one would think he were reading instructions on how to breathe.

They climbed flights of stairs, leading to platforms and tree houses. Heading towards a dwelling that was bigger and sturdier than all the rest, approachable only by a swinging bridge that wobbled with each clunking step.

Reaching the hut, Rufus rapped on the door before opening it. Inside were shelves supporting tightly sealed bottles and jars of powders and liquids. A quick scan of the labels told Noddie they were all illegal drugs, poisons, and toxins. An iron chest stood against the far wall. A wall that was covered with maps and papers held in place with long pins. A few random objects lay scattered throughout the room, a pair of muddy boots, old lanterns, animal skins, and a collection of knives and weapons.

Before them sat a square table baring an assortment of food. Mordekah stood beside a battered desk waiting for her.

“Ah, Noddie May! You look well. How was your first night on Terrason?”

Noddie pressed her lips together. Mordekah was mocking her. Certainly she looked the worse for wear, her clothes and hair a rumpled mess, not to mention nervous and sore from sleeping on a bare floor.

That frightening smile was playing across his lips again. The one she had seen him wear shortly before losing his temper.

“Oh, come now. You should be feeling immensely relieved. I’ve decided to let you live for now. Oh, yes. I’ve taken a liking to you, Noddie May.”

Mordekah grabbed a straight-backed wooden chair from the table and offered her a seat, still smiling as though he found this gentlemanly act amusing. Noddie, however, found his behavior unsettling. Cautiously she sat down as indicated.

Once she was settled, Mordekah addressed the other two robbers, “Leave us.”

As soon as the men’s footsteps died away Mordekah gestured to the plates of eggs, meat, and toast on the table before her.

“Eat up, you must be starving.”

Noddie was hungry. Nonetheless, she gazed skeptically at the food. She did not trust Mordekah or his false smiles.

Mordekah leaned against the table. “Now, now, don’t be like that. It will never be said of Mordekah that he did not treat his guests kindly.” He picked up a slice of ham between two fingers and dropped it into his mouth. Making a show of chewing and swallowing.

After debating with herself Noddie warily took a piece herself.

“That’s better.” He gestured for her to continue eating before walking back to stand behind his desk. He unfastened a small bag, from his belt and pulled out a ring of old keys and a small, slightly stained book with a black cover. He flipped through the yellow pages, examining each sheet.

Once satisfied Mordekah returned the objects to the bag. Then to Noddie’s great surprise, he pulled her own travel bag from behind the desk.

Food forgotten, Noddie watched him extract her belongings one by one, inspecting each item in depth. Once finished, he returned everything to the bag and made his way to Noddie’s side holding the travel bag out before him.

“I’m returning this to you.”

Dumbfounded Noddie took her things.

Mordekah sat in the chair opposite her and rested both elbows on the table.

“So tell me, Noddie May, why were you headed to Milay?”

Noddie wasn’t sure how to respond. A part of her couldn’t believe she was sitting at a breakfast table with the most dangerous murderer in the world having pleasant conversation.

“Milay is my home,” she answered in a soft voice, not knowing what else to do.

“Did you not live with your uncle?”

“Only for a year.”

Mordekah’s eyes narrowed.

“You can’t tell me you didn’t know my men and I would be aboard the Tempest. You were spying on us after all.”

Noddie blinked. Did Mordekah think she boarded the ship intentionally to observe them? Perhaps on Lazren’s orders?

“I just want to go home,” she answered.

Mordekah put a hand to his chin. “I see.”

Noddie studied a nick in the table’s surface to avoid his eyes.

“How long have you known Isca then?”

Noddie’s head jerked up so fast she kinked her neck. Her reaction made Mordekah smile wider.

“Ah, surely you can’t deny that you are in connection with her.”

Noddie’s mind whirled. How did Mordekah’s interest change from Lazren to Isca? How did he even know about Isca?

“Well?” Mordekah prompted.

“We- we just met.”

“What did she tell you?” he asked threatening yet weary.

Noddie’s fingers fisted in her skirt.

“Did she say anything about treasure?”

“Yes.”

Mordekah stood up so fast his chair toppled backward. Fear was etched into his features yet there was an ecstatic energy running through his form like lightning.

“Empty your pockets.”

Noddie stared.

“NOW! Or I’ll do it myself.”

Noddie placed her hand into her pocket and pulled out the pawnds and some coins, laying them on the tabletop.

Mordekah paid them no mind, but continued to watch Noddie as though expecting her to pull out more. When she didn’t move he urged, “What else do you have?”

“That’s it,” Noddie said. The pockets of her dress where now empty. To her horror, however, Mordekah’s eyes wandered to the small pouch at her waist.

Panic flared within her. Both Isca and Mesha warned her not to show the bottle to anyone. She could say there was nothing in the pouch, but Mordekah would know if she lied.

Hand shaking, Noddie opened the pouch and placed the handkerchief on the table. As her hand drew away the cloth fell to reveal the strange, liquid-filled bottle.

Eyes wide Mordekah leaned in for a closer look. He reached out to touch it, but thought better of it and withdrew his hand rubbing his fingers together.

The silence became heavier the longer they sat, the bottle between them, as unremarkable as a drinking cup.

Mordekah straightened. Appearing taller than before as he threw back his shoulders. “Alright, put it away.”

With timid fingers, Noddie returned the bottle to her pouch. He wasn’t going to take it from her? He was going to let her keep it?

As soon as the bottle was out of sight again Mordekah strolled over to stand beside her, there was a twinkle of madness in his eye and his ridiculous smile was larger than ever. He placed a rough hand on her shoulder and she resisted the temptation to throw it off.

“Noddie May, I think you and I are going to become great friends.”

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