Merlin woke to the smell of a salty breeze on his face from the crack in the wall and hushed voices above him. Crawling out of the alcove and finding his shirt had gone horribly clammy from leaning on the damp wooden wall all night, Merlin stood up and stretched.
He could just about hear voices on the deck above and, having nothing better to do and being a curious type, he decided to listen in. Looking around, he spotted an old barrel, which he climbed onto so he was closer to the ceiling.
The barrel began to slide back and forth with the sway of the moving ship and he had to grab onto a bar that was sticking out of the ceiling to stop himself falling off. It calmed down after that, and he concentrated on listening into the conversation above him.
He vaguely recognized a few of the voices. One of them was Sheridan – just the sound of him made Merlin bristle and grit his teeth – another was Toms, and the rest eluded him apart from a man Merlin believed was one of the press-gangers who had kidnapped both him and Arthur almost two weeks ago.
“I’m not standing for him any more,” Sheridan announced loudly. “We have to get rid of him.”
“You do realized you’re suggesting…” Toms replied, and paused nervously, “mutiny?”
“That is precisely what I am suggesting.”
There was muted silence before another man spoke up.
“You mean you have a plan?”
“Whoa, wait! Hang on a minute, here,” someone interrupted. “We can’t do away with the captain. Who’ll take his place?”
“Well, its clear it’ll be me,” Sheridan scoffed. “And yes, I do have a plan.”
Merlin could just see him sitting there, leaning forward and beckoning the men around him closer, leering at them all with an evil smirk. It made his eyes narrow angrily. If Sheridan had plans to overthrow the ship and ‘get rid’ of the captain – whoever he was – then things could only get worse for Merlin. There was no way he was going to let this happen, so he listened in closer to extract any and all information on the mutiny.
“You know what he’s like. It’ll be a breeze to get him out of his cabin for once,” Sheridan said. “All we have to do is get him near the side of the ship. So, Toms, at noon today I want you on the helm. Mark, you’ll be in the crows nest and you’ll shout ‘man overboard’ when I give the signal.”
“There’s going to be a man overboard?”
“We could always throw the runt over…” someone suggested, causing the intently listing Merlin to reel.
“As much as I would like to, there will only be one man overboard today, and that’ll be the captain. Besides, I want the runt to starve to death and rot away in the brig like he deserves.”
“So what are we doing, then?” a sailor asked, his chair issuing a quiet creak as he leant forward.
“As soon as Mark has shouted ‘man overboard’, I’ll run into the captain’s cabins and bring him outside to the side of the ship. He’s an idiot, he wont suspect a thing.”
“And then what?”
“And then me and Toms will push him over.”
“Exactly. Are you all in?”
There was the sound of incoherent mumbles of agreement and a few slapping of hands. Chairs grated over the floor as their previous inhabitants pushed them back and stood up before making their way out of the room.
Seeing no further reason to stand on the barrel that was beginning to wobble again, Merlin jumped off it and started thinking hard. He couldn’t let them go through with the mutiny, and for that reason he was going to have to warn the captain somehow. The only problem was that he utterly helpless in the brig.
He could always try the door with his magic. He had not done so before because he preferred to be where he was not being beaten up and ridiculed for no good reason every five minutes.
Creeping across the dark room, Merlin made it to the door and crouched down to look through the keyhole. He flexed his fingers and sharpened his vision, allowing his magic to stream into his eyes and flash a brilliant gold before mentally ordering the key in the lock to turn. With a click, it opened the door, and the young warlock stood up, quietly pushing it open. He flinched when it creaked horribly. There was the sound of footsteps thumping down the stairs.
A face appeared around the side of the staircase and caught sight of Merlin who was halfway out of the door. The young warlock froze as the sailor came over, confused. How had he opened the door? Oh, well. It wasn’t like it mattered.
Merlin found himself pushed roughly back inside the brig and the door slammed behind him. The man turned the key, locking it, and pulled it out before taking his post at a table outside the door, watching it carefully.
Great, there was no getting out that way.
Merlin turned back to face the room and scowled at it, looking for another escape route. The porthole caught his attention. It would be a squeeze, but he could get through there…right?
On closer inspection, Merlin decided he would break out that way and somehow climb up the side of the ship to where the captain’s quarters were. He had a rough idea where they were, because he had been told explicitly on many occasions not to ever set foot in there. When inquired as to why, Merlin had been cuffed over the head and informed that scum like him were not worthy of seeing the captain. Stupid prats…
No time to think about that now, Merlin told himself, using his uninjured hand to prize open the grime covered catch to the window. It swung open and he stuck his head out, peering up at the side of the ship. The planks of wood that made the sides stuck out slightly – he could use them as foot and handholds – so he pulled himself out of the porthole.
The widest part of him was his shoulders, and there was a horrible moment when he thought they weren’t going to come through; he was wary of pushing too hard and flying out of the window like a cork, which would end him up in the raging waves below.
However, after a great deal of wriggling, struggling and squirming, he finally managed to pull himself out of the hole, and began the slippery accent to the window which he was sure led to the captain’s cabin. He was lucky it was almost directly across the porthole he’d chosen; otherwise he’d be stuffed.
A salty spray of water would fly up and shower him every so often and made it difficult to keep his hands and feet on the planks that only stuck out an inch or so from each other. His bandaged hand was not of much use, either, and he soon began to struggle as the curve of the ship took a turn for the worse, and he had to use the stinging palm to climb.
At long last, after seemed what a lifetime, he made it to the top and pulled himself over the guardrail. He fell with a thud onto the floor of the little balcony and lay there for a moment, catching his breath, before sitting up and looking around.
The balcony was an extension of what looked like a study – Merlin could see it on account of the huge sliding glass door that was there instead of a regular wall. Shelves lining the sides of the study were filled with an array of books, all ranging in size, shape and colour. There were also a few highly polished tables in the cabin, all abiding upon a light green carpet with a maroon red design on it. On the tables themselves sat all kinds of knickknacks. Merlin could see at least five globes of the world, a stack of maps, a sextant, a rack filled with swords, papers lying all over a desk and a lantern hanging from the ceiling.
Sliding open the door, Merlin stepped into the room. This had to be the captain’s quarters – it was too rich to be one of the crew’s – but he could not see the man he was searching for, whatsoever.
He edged further into the room, looking around to make sure he had not missed anyone lurking by a cabinet or hidden behind the door. When he was sure he was completely alone, he began to relax a little and wander around, touching and probing the strange metal contraptions on the tables of which probably aided the person who liked to study maps.
He found a pair of spectacles on the desk that looked oddly familiar, but he soon forgot them when he heard footsteps outside the door and the handle turning…