It was near midnight when Sheridan gave the final order for Merlin to stop again.
The young warlock ignored all the taunts the crew threw him as Sheridan pinned up one of the blood covered parchments on a wall for all to see, and instead, exhausted and hurt, he crawled into his pile of ropes that served as a bed, and slipped into a small crook where he held his wounded hand in the other, softly running a lean finger over the gash.
It stretched from the beginning of his thumb to his little finger and was still oozing blood, so he took a knife out of his pocket that he had attained from the kitchens a few days ago, and began to tear away the hem of his tattered blue shirt. Once a lengthy strip had been ripped off, he wrapped it around the wound, gritting his teeth to stop himself from yelping with the sting of the cloth.
The other men were all beginning to saunter off to their hammocks, so the room soon grew quiet, only broken by a few loud snores. Merlin was accustomed to them now, however, having stayed just over a week on the dreaded ship.
It was hard to articulate the amount of time he had spent as a member of the crew. Sometimes, it felt like a few hours. Other times it felt like years. And what was more; he had not had a decent meal in that entire time. His stomach growled, reminding him of it once again.
He had always been skinny, but now he was beginning to curl in on himself. Every rib showed. That couldn’t be right.
Still gripping his injured palm in a hand, Merlin crept out of his hole and edged his way over the creaking floorboards, and stumbled into the kitchens, swaying with the rock of the ship.
The kitchen served as more than just a place to cook. Most of the smaller tasks took place there, like laundry, other cleaning chores and most of the mops, brooms and cleaning equipment were kept there, too. Of course, all of the scutwork fell to Merlin – Sheridan made sure of that – so he knew his way pretty well through the labyrinth of stuff that ranged from cutlasses to carrots, and buckets to dirty old socks, that Merlin probably should have washed days ago.
Ducking under a derelict construction of brooms, Merlin finally reached the food cupboard. After opening it, he found there wasn’t much to choose from. He had a lavish selection of maggoty biscuits, meat with clumps of mould growing all over it, or those dreaded potatoes that everyone had seen quite enough of.
Deciding on the biscuits, Merlin reached into the cupboard, flicked the maggots away and began to stuff himself. If he was caught stealing food, he’d probably be thrown over the side of the ship, but Merlin was desperate.
He squeezed himself down beside an old basket and a box full of metal pulleys, and crammed the biscuits into his mouth. They didn’t exactly taste delicious, but Merlin was too ravenous to care.
After the handful of biscuits was finished, he made to stand up and go back to his bed of ropes, but something caught his eye.
In the basket beside him, lay a familiar coat. Merlin recognized it as Sheridan’s – the man always wore it. It was the laundry basket, so it was probably there waiting to be washed.
Suddenly, Merlin had a glorious thought.
A plan began to form in his mind. It wasn’t a particularly intricate scheme, nor was it worthy of taking the vengeance on Sheridan he deserved, but it would most definitely be fun, and that’s what Merlin seriously needed right now.
With a newfound energy, the young warlock leapt to his feet and scurried over to a pile of crates in a corner. He picked up a nearby crowbar and jammed it under the lid of one of the boxes, and took a look behind him to make sure no one was there, before bringing a fist down on the end of the crowbar. The lid came off with a horribly loud snap.
Merlin shot his gaze over at the door, knowing that if anyone caught him, he would have to endure yet more brutality from Sheridan. There was not a thing to be seen, however, so, breathing a sigh of relief, he pulled the wooden lid away and peered into the crate.
Inside, there was a jumble of small packets made of slightly browning cotton. He took the one nearest to him and pulled the little strings that opened it. There was a red flaky substance inside that Merlin knew to be spice.
He snatched a few more packets out of the crate before shoving the lid back on, and made his way quickly to a table where he grabbed a bowl and took his faithful knife out of his pocket again. After shaking all the fiery red spice into the bowl, he began to use the butt of the short dagger to grind the specks up into a fine dust.
He returned to the basket with the bowl in his hand, and pulled the sea green coat out before rubbing the powder all over the inside of it.
Placing the sabotaged coat back in the basket, Merlin quickly snuck out of the kitchens again, silently laughing at Sheridan.
All that remained now was to wait until the morning, when no doubt the man would put on the jacket…
The next morning, Merlin set down a crock of porridge on the table before the awaiting crew. Everyone groaned; they all knew Merlin was a dreadful chef, and his porridge was not something to be sniffed at – literally.
Like he did every morning, the young warlock ignored them, and slid the crock along the table, spooking out the white paste into each bowl with a hearty splat. He skipped Sheridan’s space, as the man had not arrived at the table yet. Merlin hoped – no, pleaded – that he was somewhere, putting the jacket on.
As if on cue, Sheridan suddenly stepped into the room, puffing out his chest. He liked to feel and look in command, and let the crew acknowledge his ‘magnificent’ presence for a moment before swaggering over to his place at head of the table.
Merlin had to pretend he was fascinated with his porridge, for the hated man was wearing the coat, and sniggered quietly into his dish while trying to eat and not draw attention to himself.
The wait for Sheridan’s reaction to the homemade itching powder took a frighteningly long time – Merlin almost thought it wasn’t going to work – before Sheridan suddenly raised a hand and scratched the back of his thick neck.
Merlin hunched his shaking shoulders over his food and tried to smother his laughter as Sheridan scratched himself yet again. He seemed to write it off as any other itch, but he pulled a confused face when he obviously began to feel the spice irritating his skin. He began to squirm, ever so slightly at first, but clearly getting increasingly annoyed.
Suddenly, he leapt to his feet, itching everywhere. The crew noticed and began to stare at their boss. Merlin, however, couldn’t look. He was sure that if he did, he would burst out laughing and blow his cover.
Sheridan continued to scratch as he danced, hopped, skipped and jumped around the deck, itching the coat feverishly. Merlin began to shake with laughter and spilt the cup of water in his hand all over his face. A nearby man caught sight of him, and nudged him with an elbow.
“Did you do that?” he asked, staring at Merlin in wonder and motioning towards Sheridan who was now leaping around as if being stung by a million swarms of bees.
The young warlock looked up, his eyes sparkling with amusement, and nodded.
“Hey, everyone! The Runt got Sheridan!”
Everybody burst into applause and cheered. Before he knew it, Merlin was suddenly being hoisted up off his seat and onto two sailor’s shoulders. They began to push through the crowd with him on his shoulders until they got to the centre where Merlin, who felt quite dazed at this point, was practically mobbed by exuberant, laughing sailors, who were clearly waiting for a chance to laugh at the man, even if they always backed him up in his wrong doings.
Merlin gingerly lifted a hand and waved at his supporters. They burst into even more rapturous laughter and began to cheer.
“MERLIN! MERLIN! MERLIN! MERLIN! MERLIN!”
It was the first time Merlin had heard his real name used in over a week.
And it felt so good.
However, Sheridan’s nearest and dearest – his inner circle – who stuck by him throughout his ruthless ways, did not join in with the celebrations and instead grouped together to protect Sheridan who had thrown off his coat, found the remainders of the red spice, and was now glowering at the grinning and oblivious Merlin with a look that could kill.
“C’mon, break it up! Break it up!” the inner circle demanded, mingling with the gleeful crowd and pulling them apart, clearly furious.
“Sorry, mate,” one of the men holding Merlin said, setting the young warlock down on the floor and backing away into the assembly, which had gathered by both Sheridan and his men’s orders.
Completely unaware of what was happening, Merlin continued to beam at the flock of sailors with an astronomical smile, until Sheridan motioned for two men to bring Merlin to him.
The young warlock suddenly found himself engulfed in the grasp of two hefty press-gangers, who hauled him over to Sheridan. He looked so angry he could have bitten Merlin’s head off right then and there.
He leaned in very close to Merlin, looking him right it his terrified blue eyes with his own dark ones.
“No one makes a fool of me,” he hissed ever so quietly in Merlin’s ear. “NO ONE!”
Merlin jumped at the sudden change in volume and his heart flew to his mouth, making it difficult to breath as Sheridan grabbed the front of his shirt and dragged him towards him, taking Merlin’s feet right off the ground.
“Send this vile, pathetic filth to the brig,” Sheridan spat, throwing Merlin back into the open arms of the two sailors.
As they began to drag him away, Merlin had a feeling that the brig was going to be more than just an imprisonment. There was a certain air surrounding the crowd who had once been applauding him, but were now following the procession that consisted of Sheridan, his men and Merlin, with an atmosphere which reminded the young warlock of a funeral.
His curiosity and apprehension got the better of him, and he turned to the man on his left who had him in a vice like grip.
“What’s in the brig?” he asked, his eyes round and desiring knowledge.
The man looked down at him with a mirthful smirk.
“Oh, don’t you know? The brig is haunted.”
“Yeah,” the other man agreed with him, also sneering down at Merlin, “there was once an old stowaway on this ship who got himself an…unfortunate ending. His ghost still creeps around, moaning…”
“He’ll eat your brains.”
“Gouge out your eyes!”
“Shatter your bones!”
“Cut out your tounge!”
“And oh, how I wish I could witness it,” Sheridan said with a bark of a laugh, turning to join the conversation. “But I don’t think one such as your repulsive self deserves my presence while being torn to pieces.”
Merlin swallowed. He was not superstitious like these men seemed to be, but he was frightened nevertheless, and as they neared the big, imposing door that led to the brig, he began to quiver.