A/N: Some news for my readers who don't read Azying: My family was hit with some devastating news about my mom's health last week that will probably impact future uploads and there's a strong chance I'll have to go on hiatus in a couple months. We're still trying to get all the details sorted out, but...yeah. I apologize ahead of time for any future missed uploads.
By noon of the next day, we had sailed out of the rain and into clear, blue skies. There was a favorable wind at our back, the ocean was relatively calm, and none of us had killed someone yet. Fitzy, as it turns out, was fairly decent when it came to adjusting the sail so that it continued to be filled by the wind. He also had in his possession a compass—something neither Jack or I had.
"We need to go two degrees to the southwest," he said, looking down at the little red arrow.
"Portside," Jack corrected. He turned the wheel accordingly and the boat slowly began to turn. "Anythin' westwards is portside; eastwards is starboard."
Fitzy's brow rose. "Why not just use the cardinal directions?"
"It's quicker to say portside and starboard," I answered. Sitting in the shade of the sail, I was cleaning my dagger, which Jack had returned. There had been a bit of dried blood on the blade, leaving me thankful I had made him take it. "And it's easier to distinguish when you're in the middle of a storm."
"Hm. I shall keep that in mind for the future, then," he replied, closing the compass and tucking it into the pocket of his coat.
Arabella came on desk, a water flask in hand. "If we're careful," she said, offering it first to Fitzy, "we should have enough water t' last us another four days." Originally, I had brought on enough water to last us at least a week and a half, but with an unexpected crew member, that number had been drastically cut. "So let's try not t' let ourselves get too parched, lest we end up chuggin' more than our fair share." She took the flask when Fitzy handed it back, thanking her.
"Hopefully, we'll have come upon land in that time," Jack said. Slipping a loop of rope around one of the wheel's handles, he then took the flask from Arabella when she offered it to him. "Thank you, my lady."
"And what of our food stores?" I questioned. With my dagger now clean, I flicked my thumb against the edge of the blade only to frown. Somehow, Jack had managed to dull it quite a bit.
"Those we're far better off on," she chuckled. "Even with the new crew member, we've got at least three weeks' worth o' food stowed away down there."
"That's good to hear," Fitzy said, beginning to pace the deck. "Though, if we were to run low, we could always try our hands at fishing."
Jack gave him a long look. "And what, pray tell, are we supposed t' use in order t' fish?" he questioned. "We've no nets, nor do we have any fishin' poles."
Arabella frowned at that. "Emil was able to catch some fish the other day," she said. The three of them looked at me, all wearing varying levels of curiosity on their faces.
"Catching that fish was entirely a fluke," I told them. "The lobster was a wee bit easier, given I just dove down and snatched it up." Fitzy looked disgusted when I mentioned the lobster—it was seen as food barely fit for prisoners. Not sure why, given that it was quite tasty.
"An' just how was it a fluke? Don't tell me ye just snuck up on it," Arabella countered.
I shrugged, and, dishonestly, I told them, "More like it just swam into my hands. I honestly don't know how it happened." I looked back down at the dagger I was cleaning. "I can say, however, that I was using one of my spare shirts as a bag to carry aforementioned fish and lobster. Just tied up the sleeves and neck then, et voila, a bag."
Fitzy scratched the side of his neck; his face was a bit red thanks to the growing heat. "In that case, we can then count on you to get us some shellfish…as undesirable as they are."
"When you're out on the open seas, you're not allowed t' be fussy about what you eat," Jack told him. "An' let's not worry about food stores runnin' out just yet. We're not exactly in the best o' spots for Drystan to be lobster huntin' in anyway." He gestured out to the water around us, which was dark in color, denoting that it there were no nearby reefs or sandbars.
"I could try," I joked, "but I don't think I can hold my breath long enough to reach a point where any lobsters or crabs could be found."
Jack suddenly snapped his fingers and pointed at me. "That reminds me!" he cried. "You said you'd prove t' me that you could hold your breath underwater for more than five minutes!"
I stiffened slightly and my brows furrowed. "I did…?"
"Aye, you did!" He then grinned cheekily. "Unless you were just sayin' that t' impress Mary, that is."
My cheeks turned ever so slightly pink as I recalled the conversation we had had over lunch a while back. "Ah, yes…so I did," I murmured, frowning.
"No one can hold their breath for more than five minutes, let alone while being underwater," Fitzy said, his voice dry and his brow raised. "He was, most certainly, trying to impress a woman."
"Not true! I've a cousin who can hold her breath for nearly seven minutes!" Arabella countered. "Both in an' out o' water."
Fitzy rolled his eyes. "She has to be lying, then. A person would pass out from lack of air in that amount of time." He then looked at me. "And you have to be lying, too. That's quite a horrible quality to have, you know—lying."
A smirk suddenly came to my lips, taking him by surprise; I didn't like being called a liar. "Jack, go get your pocket watch." Setting the weapons and cleaning supplies aside, I stood up and started to undo the belt around my waist.
"Aha, going t' prove him wrong, Drystan?" Jack grinned. He moved over to the hatch leading below deck.
"Of course." Dropping my belt on the deck, my vest soon joined it.
Arabella's eyes widened. "Are ye crazy, lad!? We're in the middle o' the open ocean! What if a shark were t' come up an' grab ye?"
Her words made me pause—but only for a few seconds. "If a shark does come up on us, I think I'll be close enough to the boat that either it won't see me or you'll be able to pull me up." I knew well enough that getting attacked by a shark wasn't a very common occurrence unless there were blood in the water. And since I wasn't on my cycle, I had nothing to worry about.
At least, in regards to sharks. I still had to worry about convincing these three that I could hold my breath for as long as I said.
"Not to mention, sharks are more common around reefs, where there are more fish," Fitzy sighed as I kicked off my boots.
Grabbing a rope, I moved to tie it around the mast. "If anything, what I have to worry about most is the amount of barnacles that are stuck to the hull."
"An' why's that?" Arabella asked.
"Because, if I'm not careful, they'll rip me to shreds and then we'll get swarmed by sharks." I tied the rope into a knot before giving it a good tug; it didn't budge. As such, I started to roll up my sleeves. "There's a form of punishment—well, execution, really—used by the worst of the worst pirates called keelhauling. Your limbs are bound together and a rope is attached to you before you're thrown overboard like a float for some minutes. Except, since the ship is usually moving fairly fast, you're dragged under the keel and shoved backwards by the ship's movement. If you don't die from being shredded by the barnacles, you die from drowning." I looked over at Fitzy and Arabella only to find them both wearing expressions of horror mixed with disgust.
"And yet, it seems like you're about to keelhaul yourself," Fitzy said after a moment.
"Don't be ridiculous." I dismissively waved my hand at him. "This boat isn't going nearly fast enough for a proper keelhauling. I'm also not going to be very far down the rope—just enough to let me stay under." I glanced over at the hatch in time to see Jack finally coming back on deck.
"Sorry about the wait. Had t' wind the darn thing," he chirped. Then, going over to Arabella, he held out the watch to her. "Do us a favor, Bell, an' keep time, will you?"
Her brow rose. "Why me? It's yer watch."
"Because I'll be joinin' Drystan in the briny deep," he said, undoing his belt and dropping it to the deck like I had done. "I want t' see just how long I can hold my breath, too."
Chuckling, I lightly shook my head. "Fair enough. I'd asked if you'd like to make a wager on it, but being that I know just how little you've got in your coin purse…"
"We could wager watch hours," he grinned. "I've got first watch tonight, so if I win, you have t' take it."
"Sounds good to me." I held out my hand so we could shake on it and, after doing such, I went to tie a second rope to the mast while Jack continued to shed layers of clothing onto the deck. Both ropes I tossed overboard on the starboard side.
Once he was in just his trousers and shirt, he walked over to where I was standing. "So, how will we go about this, Drystan?" he questioned. "Both in terms o' rules an' us not getting keelhauled."
"I figure we hold on tight to the ropes and brace ourselves against the hull with our feet. As for rules, no poking your head above the water and no trying to make the other one quit early."
He nodded in understanding. "Sounds fair enough. Which means that Fitzy an' Bella will be the ones makin' sure we don't cheat."
"That won't be very hard," Fitzy said, his brow raised.
With both Jack and I left in just our trousers and shirts, we went over to the railing. We each grabbed a rope and, holding onto it rather tightly, we climbed over and started to lower ourselves into the water. It was a bit difficult, given that the ship was moving, but after a bracing ourselves, we were able to get in a relatively secure position.
"Are ye both ready?" Arabella asked, her brows furrowed as she looked down at us.
"Aye," Jack grinned. He had soaked braids and bits of hair stuck to various parts of his face.
"Aye, I'm ready," I said with a small laugh.
"On the count o' three, then. One…two…three!"
Sucking in as deep of a breath as I could, I submerged myself under the water. A smile came to my lips as I was surrounded by the ocean, a sense of belonging filling my core. I turned my head to look at Jack only to nearly burst out laughing: He had his cheeks puffed out like a fish, a look of concentration on his face, and his hair was floating and moving about thanks to the movement of the boat.
'He looks like either a drowning monkey or a very sick jellyfish,' I thought. 'I hope his face doesn't hurt too much after this…'
One minute came and went, as did two minutes. Neither of us showed any signs of giving up. When three minutes came to pass, however, I could see that Jack was starting to get uncomfortable: His brows were furrowed and his jaw was clenched. He also held the rope with only one hand now, the other keeping his nose pinched shut. When another half minute passed, he looked very uncomfortable.
Part of me wanted to give up right then just because I pitied him, but I quickly reminded myself that this was not just a contest to see who could hold their breath longer, but to also prove that I could hold my breath for over five minutes while submerged.
When nearly four minutes passed, Jack finally gave up—and just in time, too, as his face had been starting to change color. Grabbing hold of the rope with both hands, he yanked himself upwards, his head breaking through the surface with a loud gasp. To my surprise, however, he didn't climb back into the boat. In fact, after his initial gulp of air, he took in a fresh lungful and came back down to scowl at me.
Just to be a bit of an arse, I smiled and gave him a small wave.
In return, he pouted and made some sort of gesture I could only assume that, had he the use of both hands, would have meant 'How!?'. I shrugged in response before looking up towards the surface. Thanks to the moving water, I couldn't see Arabella or Fitzy too clearly, but I was able to make out the positions they stood in: Arabella had one hand on the railing while the other held the watch and she was leaning over slightly while Fitzy stood ramrod-straight beside her, his hands behind his back.
Shaking his head, Jack resurfaced and dragged himself back up into the boat, leaving me all by my lonesome in the water. I stayed under for another two minutes, just to be certain that I had gone past the five-minute mark. Then, pulling myself to the surface, I gulped in a large breath of air just as I had done during that contest almost a month ago. Pretending to breathe heavily, I started to pull myself up the rope only for Jack to reach over the rail and help haul me onto the deck.
"Almost seven minutes exactly," Arabella said as I sat down with my back against the rail.
"Th-that's a new record," I panted, a cheeky grin coming to my lips. "Thank you for keeping track of the time, by the way."
"I can't believe ye actually held yer breath that long," she said, her head tilting. There was a small click as she closed the watch. "I knew it was possible, but…That's almost inhuman, what ye did just now."
Chuckling, I lulled my head to the side, looking at Jack and Fitzy. "Do-do you beli-believe me now?"
A disgruntled look came to Fitzy's face. "I suppose I have no choice but you believe you," he said, doing a good job of hiding his distaste.
I suddenly swore and toppled sideways as, from out of nowhere, Jack elbowed my bicep. "I had a feelin' you could hold your breath quite some time, given how adamant you were, but I didn't actually think you could go past five minutes," he grinned. The way he looked at me, however, was a bit odd—it was a sort of searching look, like he was trying to see into me rather than at me. "An' you didn't even cheat! You must've practiced a lot when you were younger."
Shrugging, I let my head tilt back against the railing. "I've always been able to hold my breath that long."
Fitzy crossed his arms over his chest now, his brow rising. "And yet, you insisted you show us while underwater, instead of up here in the open air."
"Aye, because if I show you how long I can hold my breath whilst underwater, no one can rightfully accuse me of cheating," I told him, wiggling a finger at him. "Meanwhile, on land, no matter what I did, I could be accused of cheating and be unable to prove otherwise."
"The lad's got a point," Arabella said with a small nod. "Even if he were t' plug his nose, he could still manage t' breathe in through the corner o' his mouth or somehow."
Fitzy sighed in defeat. "That is very true," he relented. Then, shaking his head, he looked at me again. "You certainly seemed to be at peace down there, however. Jack didn't look that calm even when you two had been under for less than a minute."
I shrugged. "Being in the water is almost more comfortable for me than being on land."
"Why is that?" Arabella questioned. "Is it because yer weightless in the water or ye were raised somewhere where ye could swim a lot?"
"The ocean is my blood, that's why." I stood up, wishing I could dry off a bit faster; with everyone's attention on me, however, that wasn't quite possible.
"Don't you mean you the ocean is in your blood?" Fitzy questioned, his tone dry.
I shook my head. "What I said is precisely what I meant, Fitzy."
"But, grammatically speaking, it makes no sense," he argued. "You say the ocean is your—"
Jack suddenly let out a loud, annoyed groan. "We're not in school, Fitzy, so please, spare us the lesson."