Saturday, January 20, 2018

I'll Take the Lashes

A short story set in the Berstru Tales universe. Inspired by:

I'll Take the Lashes

            “Well, Captain, seems we’ve caught ye at last. All that runnin’ ye did for nothing.” The pirate captain smiled like a shark in a school of fish, sunshine glinting off gold in his smile and the sharp blade of his saber. “And now ye’ll make me an’ my crew rich as the Deep-Keeper with his hoards of sunken treasure.”

            Makatala Lea’li glared, kneeling on the rough deck, her black braids falling past her bandana into her face. She’d evaded this man— Black Montego, he called himself— and his crew for months now. Months! And now she and her crew were caught, thanks to an hour’s inattention. A rueful glance around showed the cost all too clearly: the Windrunner’s mainmast broken in two, her forecastle a shattered wreck. Half Makatala’s crew dead or wounded; all of them captives on Montego’s vessel. Serpent’s currents! If I’d been more careful—

            “Nothin’ to say?” Montego asked mockingly. “Ye had plenty earlier. Right colorful too.” He leaned in closer. “Hope ye find yer tongue again later. Ye and I are goin’ to have a chat ‘bout what yer islands are hidin’.”

            Like I would—! No. She’d correct him on that point later. Now, she had more important things to consider. “Let my crew go. Keep me, but let them go. You don’t need them.” She had to force the last word out. “Please.”

            “Tryin’ to be noble, are ye?” Montego laughed. “I’ll be keepin’ a few a’ them for leverage later. The rest . . . As ye say, I don’t need them. I was thinkin’ a’ just tossin’ ‘em off the side for the sharks. But . . .” His smile widened without becoming less cruel. “I’ll give ye a deal, Captain. Pick one a’ yer men to take a floggin’. Every lash he takes ‘fore he cries mercy, I’ll spare one a’ yer crew. Let ‘em go back to yer ship and sail off, even.”

            “Son of a sea snake!” Makatala spat. “The Keeper of the Deeps makes better bargains than that.” Then again, what more could she expect from a pirate?

            “Some a’ yer men’ll get their chance with him soon enough.” Montego shrugged. “Take the deal or leave it. Yer choice.”

            Makatala clenched her fists. “Fine. I’ll take the lashes.”

            He laughed. Laughed! “Ye will, and take enough to kill yerself before ye can make me rich. Try again, Captain. I need ye in one piece.”

            Makatala hesitated, glancing over her crew. It’s our best chance. But who was left who could take a flogging? If that traitor Spayne were still on her crew— but even if he were, he’d back out before he took a single lash. Who was loyal enough to take it, then? Enele or Tamoto would. The two of her brothers who sailed with her were as dedicated to the crew as she— but Enele had been run through by Montego himself earlier, and Tamoto wasn’t much better off. And the rest of her crew? Wounded and battle-wearied, the lot. Plenty loyal enough, but how many strong enough to do any good?
“Make yer choice, Captain.” Montego’s voice drew Makatala’s attention back to him. “I won’t wait ‘round bloodied water ‘til sunset.”

Makatala gave him a poisonous look. But before she could speak, another voice called out from among her crew. “A man freed for every lash, you said?”    

She didn’t have to look to identify the speaker— but she did anyway. The Berstruer, Jaku, had pushed his way to the front of the crowd of captive crewmen and faced Montego, steady and unwavering as a mountain. He appeared mostly unwounded— small wonder; with that massive sword he wielded, most enemies couldn’t get close enough to touch him while he brought down one pirate after another. And Berstruer though he was, he was nearly as tall and strong as the largest of Makatala’s many brothers. If anyone among the captives could survive enough of a flogging to save most of the crew, he could. And yet . . .

“You swear it, Montego?” Jaku went on. “They’ll return to the ship, unharmed, and be free to go?”

Serpent’s twisting currents, what are you doing, Jaku? He was no islander like most of those above the Windrunner. He wasn’t even part of her crew; he was only aboard her ship because she’d taken him captive— though she’d freed him from confinement within a day, realizing that he wasn’t an enemy, that he was fighting the Li’o Val just as she was. And now he would take a flogging for her men? What was he thinking? She opened her mouth to tell him to stop— but couldn’t. He’s our best chance, fool though he is . . .

“As ye say.” Montego grinned. “Are ye offerin’, boy?”

“Swear it.” Jaku crossed his arms. “Unharmed, no pursuit, one lash for every member of Windrunner’s crew. Swear on your ship and your honor as a captain. Then— yes, I’ll do it.”

Montego’s brows drew together beneath his black hat. “Strong oaths ye’re askin’ for there, boy.”

He was right. No sailor or captain on all the endless seas would dare break them, not even a pirate with no other honor. Stories circulated in smoky taverns about what befell those who did— strange storms full of green lightning; whirlpools that appeared suddenly to swallow ship and crew.

“I don’t intend to be whipped only for you to turn around and throw everyone off the side,” Jaku replied. “Swear it and I’ll take every stroke you give me.”

Montego snorted. “Fine. I swear, by ship and captain’s honor, to release one a’ the Windrunner’s crew for every lash ye take, ‘til ye call for mercy. I’ll not harm ‘em, nor pursue ‘em. This I swear.” He sheathed his sword. “Now, let’s get on with it. Bring ‘im!”
Two of Montego’s crew approached Jaku, but he stripped off his shirt and walked forward willingly. As he passed Makatala, he nodded to her. “Captain.”

Makatala shook her head. “You’re no island’s son, Jaku. You don’t have to do this.”

“With due respect, Captain, yes I do,” he replied, and moved on.

Makatala watched as Montego’s men tied Jaku’s wrists to the mast so his arms stretched above his head, while one other fetched a long whip from a bag beneath the steersman’s post. This he handed to a man who Makatala presumed to be Montego’s first mate.

And then it began.

The whip snaked through the air and struck Jaku’s back with a snap. A streak of red blossomed where it hit. Jaku sucked in a breath with a hiss of pain. Montego smiled and called out, “One!”

A pirate escorted one of the captives back to the Windrunner as the whip fell again, then again, then again. Makatala wanted to look away from the site, but couldn’t. She owed that much to Jaku. And, too, the scene held her gaze even as it horrified her.

Jaku never cried out, that was the worst of it. Other than those sharp intakes of breath, he never made a sound at all, even as the captain cried “Twelve!” and the first mate swung the whip with particular force. He clenched his fists; his face screwed up with pain; he jerked with each strike— but he remained nearly silent as the whip cracked and red ribbons of blood trickled down his back and dripped onto the wooden deck, where they joined other, older stains.

On the fifteenth lash, Jaku at last let out a deep moan of pain. Montego held up a hand, and the mate paused. “Had enough, boy?”

Jaku shuddered and tried to pull himself up straighter. “No.” He shook his head, wincing. “Keep on.”

Montego shrugged; lowered his hand. “Yer funeral.”

The whip fell again. There seemed to be more blood than skin on Jaku’s back now. He clung to the rigging to which he was tied as if it were his only lifeline in a storm. Still, he did not cry out— but small noises that somehow conveyed more pain than any scream escaped him every few minutes.

Another three strokes and Montego again stopped his mate. “Enough yet?”

Jaku hesitated, glanced towards the few remaining crewmembers, then shook his head once more. “Keep on.” The words came out in a gasp. “Keep on.”
You’re mad. Makatala clenched her fists, still staring. She should stop this; order Jaku to give up. How much longer could he hold on? But she couldn’t; she couldn’t give that command, not if she wanted the rest of her crew freed. She couldn’t doom her crew to save one man, no matter how much her conscience protested. Deep-Keeper take you, Montego, for forcing me into this choice!

The whip fell one last time, and the final captive climbed back aboard the Windrunner. Makatala slumped in relief. They’d be safe, even if she wasn’t. Jaku dangled from his ropes, slumped, head hanging forward, shuddering with each shallow breath.

Montego scowled, a hand on his saber. “Now ye did it. Cut ‘im down.”

“Wait,” Jaku mumbled, his voice barely audible. “Wait. Two more.”

Montego snorted. “What’s wrong with ye? Ye freed yer mates. Now I want ye off my ship.”

“Two more,” Jake repeated, words slurred from pain. “One for me. One for the captain.”

“Not happenin’,” Montego snapped. “Ye— I’ll let ye go without the lash, serpent’s son. Get back to yer ship before ye do me any more damage. But yer captain stays here.”

“You swore,” Jaku’s hands tightened on the rigging. “You swore. One lash to release one of Windrunner’s crew, until the one being lashed gives up. Captain Lea’li’s part of the crew. And I’m not giving up.”

Montego drew his saber, looking like he wanted to run Jaku through. “You can’t—”

“You. Swore. On your ship and your honor.” Jaku twisted to look directly at Montego. “You know what happens if you break that vow.”

Montego glared, then abruptly sheathed his saber. “Captain’s worth more than a crewman. Five lashes, and if you make one sound, it stops.”

“Done.” Jaku gritted his teeth, obviously bracing himself. The whip fell again: once, twice, thrice. Jaku shook, his face pale, eyes shut. Fourth lash; he jerked but didn’t make a sound. The fifth stroke fell, and he at last went limp, silent save for his shaky breaths.

Montego muttered several curses. “Release ‘em both, and toss their weapons back after ‘em. I won’t have any trace of their blasted madness on this ship!”

The men holding Makatala released her. She dashed forward to catch Jaku as another sailor cut him free. Jaku nearly fell to the deck before Makatala pushed under his shoulder to support him. “That,” she hissed in his ear, “was the most reckless, terrible foolishness anyone on my ship has ever committed. I might have to let you join my crew now.”

“Had to do it,” Jaku mumbled, stumbling along as she dragged him towards the Windrunner. “Your brothers couldn’t. Crew couldn’t. No one could. But someone had to. So I did. Couldn’t leave you all in a pirate’s hands . . . I’ve seen what they do . . .”

Makatala guided him across the gangplank. “I would’ve managed.” Behind them, two of Montego’s pirates bundled up the Windrunner crew’s weapons and tossed them onto the Windrunner.

“’Course. But someone has to look out for sisters . . . Couldn’t’ve faced mine again if I let you down . . .” Jaku sagged, but gave her a delirious half-grin. “’Sides . . . I think I’d do anything for you, capt’n. Anything you asked. I . . .” He slumped and collapsed to the deck, slipping out of Makatala’s support.

Makatala knelt anxiously— but no, he wasn’t dead. Just unconscious. It was a miracle he’d held on this long. “Naea! Ala’i! Get this man to my quarters and tend his wounds. The rest of you, get to work. We’ve got our freedom, thanks to Jaku. Let’s not waste it.”


  1. Great story! It's bee a long time since I've read a pirate story, but I've always loved the genre. I might just have to get back into it now. Thanks for sharing! :D

  2. I like it! The name style is quite different from the European normal, which is nice—they sound as if they have Hawaiian or Pasifika inspiration. I'm playing around with languages and how they affect linguistics on my world, so I paid careful attention to your naming style here. :)

    My criticism: The moral dilemma your character faces is an excellent one because it asks her to choose which member of her crew will be injured. The social consequences on board ship would last long beyond escaping the pirates, and making her unable to pick herself is also an excellent choice. Why did the pirate captain let her off the hook? Jaku picks himself, the same thing Makatala tried, but this time the pirate captain accepts the volunteer. In effect, I would have liked to see Makatala make a choice and live with the consequences.

    1. Danke! Yeah, Hawaiian/Pasifika (I assume that's the official term for people-from-the-Pacific-Islands-in-general) is what I was going for, so I'm glad it worked. Still working on speech patterns in general for people of that culture (to differentiate them more from Berstruers later on), but yeah.

      Thank you for your criticism; I appreciate the input. I will say that I knew when I started the story that Jaku was going to volunteer, and I don't think I'll change that if/when I rework this (which I quite possibly might), but I probably will try to change it so Makatala still has to make a choice. As for why the captain accepts Jaku, but not Makatala- I tried to explain some in-story why he won't let Makatala take the beating (he wants her alive; she has information and status on the islands that'll help him achieve his goals). But given that his goal is also to try to break Makatala somewhat, it would make more sense for her to not accept another volunteer (at least, since he doesn't know Jaku's not part of the crew).

      Anyway. Thank you once again for the comments! I appreciate that you took the time to give such good suggestions.

  3. I love the 'you pick who we'll hurt, for the sake of the others' scenarios. I mean, they're horrible! and traumatic! and there's so much character torture! (now I sound terrible... :| ) So I really enjoyed this story; thank you for sharing, Sarah! :D
    - Jem Jones

    1. Heh, you sound like an author. xD Anyway. I'm very glad you liked it! Thanks for reading!


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