“Of what nationality?”
I squinted. “No, you’re not. The Prozarians are extinct.”
She widened her arms. “Do we look extinct?”
I scratched my jaw and looked over the great numbers of her crew. “Well, to be honest … a few of the people in back could pass as corpses.”
If she enjoyed my joke — which was reasonably accurate — she didn’t show it. “Your crew will fare no better, unless you turn over Jaron to me. Are you him?”
“Jaron will be sent over to you shortly,” I said. “Truly, the crew will be glad to be rid of him. In exchange, you will agree not to cause any further damage to this ship, nor attempt to board it.”
The smile remained, but something in her eyes was frozen. “In exchange, I will agree not to sink the ship. Your crewmen will be given the option to join my crew, rather than to be left out here to die a slow and miserable death.”
I shrugged. “Serving on your crew is already a slow and miserable death, I’m sure. Jaron will be sent over to you, and you will depart with him immediately. No one else.”
Strick gestured toward one of her men, a round-faced bulge of flesh who seemed to be built of rock embedded in mud. I immediately named him Lump. In turn, he lifted a long strip of wood with a lip on both sides to attach it to both ships.
“Prepare to be boarded,” Strick said.
Erick looked at me. “I can only give you an extra second or two, but you must take it.”
I started toward him. “No, don’t!” But it was too late.
Erick crossed directly in front of the gangplank, raising his sword. “Not one of you is getting on this ship while there is life left in me.”
Strick smiled again. “As you wish.” And with a wave of her hand, another arrow was fired, striking Erick directly in the chest. Time seemed to freeze as he gasped, dropped his sword, then fell to the ground.
I felt the hit as if I had taken it myself, and pain immediately filled me. In a panic, I knelt beside him, pressing my hand to the wound. I yelled to any pirate who might hear me, “Get a rag!”
But Erick put his hands over mine and lifted them from his chest. “Forgive me,” he said. “Forgive me … Sage.”
“Sage?” the captain echoed.
I looked up and saw that Strick had already crossed the gangplank and was crouched above us, listening in. “Is that your name, boy? Sage?”
Without a word I stood as she jumped to the deck, ordering two of her men who had followed her across, “Toss this body overboard. It’s depressing to see it.”
I pushed between them, shaking my head. “He deserves a proper burial.”
One of the men — a brute with a shock of red hair — shoved me aside, knocking me to the deck. “At sea, this is as proper a burial as he might get.”
“Will that be enough of a burial, when I’m finished with you?” I asked, earning myself a kick.
The other man lifted Erick’s body beneath the arms and began dragging him to the aft side of the deck while the captain walked forward, taking herself on a tour. I remained where I was.
“This is a pirate ship?” she asked. “Are you one of the pirates, Sage?”
“You must forgive me for interrupting your pleasant evening.”
“I don’t forgive; I stab.”
“With this sword?” She snapped her fingers and a Prozarian I had not noticed before stepped forward, with my sword in his filthy hands, an insult I tolerated only because I had no other choice. “Do you claim this?”
“That’s a fine sword, but this does not mean Jaron is on this ship.”