Author: Paul aka Darth Pacula
"Dyin'!" growled Mockery as he marched down the corridor towards his cabin, arms gesticulating wildly. "By the Nine Nails of Torment, what d'ya mean, dyin'? What the bleedin' hells happened to 'er?"
"Dunno, boss," mumbled Cooke as he trailed anxiously behind. "She's been sickly since the big blow though."
Mockery came to an abrupt halt, and Cooke nearly plowed into his superior's back, then had to fall back rapidly as Mockery spun around and narrowed the gap even further. "What do ya mean, sickly?" he demanded. "If that lass 'as brought plague aboard the Rose, I'll heave 'er over tha side myself!"
Cooke shook his bald head vigourously. "Nothin' like that, sir. The Little Miss has been seasick."
Scowling, Mockery turned on his heal and resumed his march. "People don't die from seasickness, ya daft bugger. Gotta be somethin' more'n that."
Reaching the door, Mockery signaled for Cooke to remain outside before slipping silently inside. "Mind her ..." Cooke began, but his voice trailed off as there was a clatter and a muffled curse. "... dinner."
There were several long minutes of silence, leaving Cooke to fidget nervously outside, before Mockery re-emerged. Tara lay sprawled in his arms, loose limbed and twitching feebly. She was sweating heavily, shivering with fever, and dark bags lay beneath Tara's eyes as she mumbled incoherently.
"Cooke, fetch Shenj-do to the Cap'n's cabin, fast as ye can," Mockery ordered as he marched away, staggering slightly beneath Tara's weight.
Willow lay spreadeagled on her bed, staring distractedly at the ceiling above her. Around her on the bed lay several books left open, but none of them had managed to capture Willow's attention. That in itself was unusual; it was a rare occasion that Willow found a book she wouldn't read from cover to cover, no matter how many times she might have read it before.
Truth be told, nothing had been able to fully capture her attention since the Wild Rose had left Devastapol. Nothing but one certain blonde ... which accounted for Willow's increasingly constant bad temper.
She'd stayed completely away from Tara for the last ten days in the hope that time and distance, as much as was possible aboard a ship at sea, would see the blonde slip from her thoughts. Thus far, her plan had been a spectacular failure.
Avoiding Tara seemed to have had the opposite effect to what Willow had hoped. Absence had only served to drive thoughts of the blonde woman deeper into Willow's consciousness, like the spikes hammered into felled trees to split logs. And for each day that passed, those spikes were hammered further in.
But Willow was nothing if not stubborn; she had set herself a course, and it would take a damn sight more to force her to veer off from it.
A fist hammering at her cabin door disrupted Willow's thoughts, and brought a lightning fast scowl to her lips. "I said I wasn't to be disturbed, damn it!" she yelled without rising from her bed.
"Sorry Cap'n," replied Mockery, his voice muffled by the door. "But it is fairly important."
"Are we under attack?" Willow snapped. "Is the Rose sinking? Because otherwise, I don't want to be disturbed!"
"Fine then, Cap'n. I guess I'll just heave your wee lass over the side then ... seeing how she's on 'er last legs anyway."
That made Willow bolt upright, her eyes flaring in alarm as Mockery's words registered. Hurrying to the door, she shot the bolt back and yanked it open. "What the hell are you talking about?" she demanded. "You're not throwing anyone overboard without my express permiss..."
Her voice trailed off helplessly as she beheld Tara's sweat slicked figure lying in Mockery's arms. Or it's own accord, her hand reached out as if to brush a lank strand of blonde hair out of Tara's eyes. But Willow froze when her hand was a hairsbreadth away, hesitated for a few seconds, then snatched it back.
"What ... what happened?" she mumbled, unable to tear her eyes away from Tara's fevered countenance. "What's wrong with her?"
"What do I look like, an apothecary? How the bleedin' Hells am I supposed to know?" grunted Mockery, shuffling forward in an effort to crowd Willow out of the doorway. She did so slowly, suddenly unable to keep her distance from the other woman. The three of them seemed to be performing some kind of awkward dance, shuffling to and fro with the ship's motion, as Mockery carried his burden to Willow's bed.
He halted there, waiting patiently, while Willow stared fixatedly at Tara's delirious face, gnawing anxiously at her own fingertips. After several minutes of this, Mockery rolled his eyes in exasperation, and stamped his foot on the deck to catch Willow's attention. She looked up, startled, and Mockery looked meaningfully at the surface of his captain's bed, bestrewn with books and scrolls.
Emitting a high pitched yip as she realized Mockery's meaning, Willow swept her bed clean with a single swipe of her arm, sending tomes and documents alike tumbling to the floor. She yelped again at what she'd done; mistreating any portion of her precious library was normally anathema to her.
Willow scurried to salvage her belongings, but hesitated halfway as Mockery laid Tara down gently, visibly torn between rescuing her books and hovering over Tara's sickbed. Several times, she started in one direction, only to stop and change her mind. But in the end, it was her precious books that Willow abandoned.
Joining Mockery at Tara's bedside, Willow stared down at Tara as the blonde's limbs twitched tremulously. "What's wrong with her?" whispered Willow, as if afraid to disturb Tara's restless slumber.
Mockery shrugged, his shoulders rising and falling with all the grace of a sack of grain. "I repeat, Cap'n, how in the Hell's should I know? My speciality's hurtin' people, nay healing them."
"Then what do we do, Mock?" asked Willow, her voice uncharacteristically small and uncertain. "We can't let her die ..."
Looking alarmed at Willow's demenour, Mockery reached out a hand and patted Willow uncertainly on the shoulder. "Ach, she ain't gonna die, Cap'n," he offered weakly, unable to put any amount of certainty behind his statement. "I sent Cooke to fetch Shenj-do, he'll have an idea of what ta do."
Willow abruptly turned on her second mate, her concern manifesting itself in a manic desire to be doing something ... anything. "What if she needs a physician?" she blurted, catching Mockery by the shirt with both hands. "We should turn the ship around!"
"Cap'n!" Mockery took Willow firmly by the shoulders. "Stop 'n think. No matter what direction we sail in, we ain't gonna reach port any sooner than what it'll take us ta get to Kes in the first place. Changing our heading ain't gonna help the lassy here any, and it'll only cause strife for us."
"We have a contract, yeah?" he expounded. "With some lads it don't pay ta cross, yeah? They're expecting their cargo ta be delivered all prompt like, and won't appreciate us delaying delivery."
"You think I care about that!" Willow bellowed, puching him square in the chest. "To hell with their precious bloody cargo!"
"You bloody well better care about that, Cap'n!" Mockery shot back heatedly. "There'll be little point to the lass surviving if'n we all get our throats slit from ear ta ear in our sleep!"
Willow was baring her teeth, fists bunching up in the loose fabric of Mockery's shirt as she prepared to respond in kind, when Tara mumbled unintelligibly in the grips of her delirium. Abandoning her grip, Willow whipped around to lean over Tara's sickbed. Behind her, Mockery hovered uncertainly, caught off balance by Willow's behavior; he wasn't used to his captain wavering in her decisions. Their shared profession typically called for a certain ... decisiveness, which Willow normally possessed in spades.
"She can't die, Mock," she muttered in a small, scared voice. "She can't die, not thinking I don't care. I don't know why, Mock, and I don't like it ... but I do care."
If Willow had looked back, she'd have seen Mockery's face briefly twist, a strange expression flashing across his tattooed face for an instant. But she didn't, unable to pull her eyes away from Tara's flushed and sweating features.
A quiet, respectful rap sounded at the door to Willow's cabin, and Mockery grabbed at the distraction like a starving dog with a bone. Striding over to the door, he yanked it open. A slender whip-like man with the dusky skin and dark hair of a Caliphite stood before the doorway. He wore a neat and oiled beard and mustache, and loose sleeved trousers and jerkin of patterned silk.
Standing aside, Mockery urgently waved the newcomer in, directing him to where Tara lay. Willow looked up at him with a hopeful expression, to which he responded with a sombre nod and a quick smattering of a fluid, musical language.
Willow just looked at him blankly; given that the kingdoms of the Caliphs lay inland, far from any port, the language of the Caliphs was one that Willow had never bothered to learn, but it was the only one that Shenj-do spoke. Mockery replied awkwardly in a broken form of the same language, and Shenj-do turned his attention to Tara.
Moving quickly but gently, Shenj-do examined Tara, checking the whites of her eyes, her gums, the color of her tongue and fingertips and various other locations, muttering beneath his breath all the while. Finally, with a last sniff at Tara's fevered brow, he straightened and addressed his audience. Willow immediately looked at Mockery expectantly.
"Well?" she impatiently demanded, rising to her feet with agitated vigour. "What did he say? What's wrong with her?!"
"Ahh ... well ..."
"Spit it out, Mockery!" Willow snapped.
"Cap'n, I'm only getting' about one in every three words," protested Mockery. "Gimme a second ta figure it out, yeah?"
But Willow wasn't in the mood to be placated by logic. "What if she doesn't have a second, damn it!"
"Hang on, hang on ..." Mockery muttered, brow furrowed in thought as he struggled to translate. "I think I got it ... he said ... something about demons in 'er sweat? No, wait ... demons in her blood. That's it."
"Demons in her blood!" gasped Willow, the fingers of her left hand instinctively making the sign to ward off evil. "What the hell does that mean?"
As Mockery shrugged ignorantly, Shenj-do rolled his dark eyes in exasperation at both the difficulties he suffered making himself understood, and by the superstitions of the 'barbarians' he sailed with. After making another incomprehensible comment that served only to deepen the furrows on Mockery's brow, Shenj-do gritted his teeth, grabbed both of his shipmates by the arm and dragged them to the foot of Tara's sickbed.
A finger jabbed exasperatedly directed Willow and Mockery's attention to Tara's feet, bound loosely by dirty linen bandages. Willow reached out, but hesitated, looking back at Shenj-do, who flicked one hand in a shooing gesture. As she drew nearer, Willow gagged at a sickly sweet stench coming from Tara's bandaged feet, but she persevered, gingergly peeling away the bandages.
The sight revealed was not a pretty one; Tara's feet were swollen and red, the gashes she'd sustained fleeing through Devastapol inflamed and filled with a vile yellow pus.
"Not demons in her blood ... it's an infection ..." Willow muttered to herself from beneath her breath. "How did this happen?"
"Well, she did cut her feet ta ribbons when we were legging it back in Devastapol," replied Mockery. He shrugged. "I guess just washing 'er feet and binding 'em up weren't good enough ..."
Rounding on her second mate in a fury, Willow lanced a pair of stiffened fingers into his sternum. "You knew about this?!!" she accused. "Why didn't you do something? Why didn't you tell me!"
Mockery slapped her hand away irritably. "I did bloody well do something! I cleaned 'er damn feet, didn't I! It just ... didn't take, I guess."
"You should have told me she was injured!" Willow insisted, guilt and concern conspiring to make her jab him in the chest a second time.
Catching Willow's wrist in an iron grip, Mockery stepped in close, his unassuming facade disapating as he suddenly loomed over her. "With all due respect, Cap'n," he hissed, "You been doing ya level best to have nought to do with the girl. Even if I'd a told ya, ye wouldn't have listened."
Willow felt her face go cold and tight, even has her cheeks flushed with shame. She knew Mockery was right, she had been trying to ignore Tara ever since the blonde had come aboard. But she was the captain aboard the Wild Rose, and she'd be damned if she'd put up with this from anyone, even Mockery.
"Take your damn hand off me."
The ice in Willow's voice would have made many a person flinch, but Mockery just wordlessly released his grip and stepped back. Her nostrils flared as Willow fought to reign in her temper; screaming at Mockery would do nothing to help Tara. And though she hated to admit it to herself, that was currently Willow's first priority.
She turned to Shenj-do, who had been observing their spat with quiet interest. "Is there anything we can do for her?" Willow asked.
Nodding, Shenj-do launched into another rapid-fire burst of language. Willow looked to Mockery, part hopeful, part dreading another translation fiasco. It must have showed on her face though, for Mockery grinned insolently at her.
"Don't worry, Cap'n. I got that 'un ...." His voice trailed off as the meaning of Shenj-do's statement seeped in. "Ahh ... but ye ain't gonna like it though."
"What?" she demanded. "What aren't I gonna like, Mock?"
"He said ... 'e said we should cut her feet off."
Willow blinked. Then blinked again. "We are not cutting her god's damned feet off, you butcher!" she finally snarled. "I am not consigning her to the life of a cripple for the rest of her days!"
This time, Mockery did flinch, holding up a pair of warding hands. "It's not my bloody suggestion, is it!" he complained. "So don't be peeling my skin off with your eyes, thanking you very much!"
Transfering her gimlet gaze to Shenj-do, Willow repeated her proclamation, uncaring if he understood her words or not. The tone of her voice alone said it more eloquently than a thousand tomes of poetry. "Think of something else, you damn bastard," she ordered.
Shenj-do rolled his eyes again, but obediently cocked his head in thought. Finally, he essayed a second option. Unfortunately, it sailed right past the limit of Mockery's knowledge of the Caliphite language. Biting back a blistering string of profanity, which Mockery most likely would have understood, Shenj-do resorted to pantomime, pretending to drink from an invisible vessel.
"You want us ta get 'er drunk?" asked Mockery, frowing in confusion.
Willow slapped Mockery on the arm, but a slight smile of relief was blooming on her face. "No, you daft old pirate. He's talking about some sort of tonic or restorative."
Shenj-do made a second gesture, a level hand wobbling to and fro. Mockery and Willow looked at each other, Willow's smile wilting. They both knew what that meant; there was no guarantee that this potion of Shenj-do's would work. After making a final statement, in which he spoke insultingly slowly, the Caliphite turned and hurried away.
"What the hell was that?" Willow demanded as an unhappy expression stole over Mockery's face.
"He said how well this works will depend on 'er." He nodded at where Tara lay tossing restlessly on the bed. "On how much she wants to live ..."
Willow ignored the pessimistic tone to Mockery's voice. Crossing to Tara's bedside, she reached out, and smoothed Tara's furrowed brow as the blonde whimpered in her delerium. "She has a reason to live, Mockery," Willow quietly countered, speaking more to Tara than anyone else. "If she'll just wake up ... I'll give her a reason to live. I promise."