An excerpt from The Daedalus Enigma
“Ho, Sniff! A word with ye!” Grimm hollered into the rigging.
The putrid, overripe aroma of unwashed pirate preceded the legless rigger by several feet. Grimm fought not to wrinkle his nose. The stench was enough to purge any guilt from his mind for what he was about to do to the man who once saved his life.
“Ho, Mr. Grimm, what be the word?” Sniff asked as he dangled just above the deck. His leather prosthetic nose hung by its strap about his neck. A patch covered an empty eye socket. A single bright hazel eye peered out from the grime that covered his bald, toothless head.
Grimm gave a single nod and said, “Captain’s orders.”
Two of the larger members of the crew wearing scarves over their lower faces stepped up and grabbed Sniff by the arms. They took the struggling man toward the hatch nearest the galley.
Sniff managed to crane his head around to see where they were headed. Jon-Jon stood by a large metal tub filled with steaming water. The giant of a man held a scrub brush and a cake of soap. Sniff began to scream, curse, and struggle in earnest.
“Acid; it’s acid, I tell ye! Don’t put me in there! There’ll be nothin’ left of me but me bones!”
“Strip him,” Grimm ordered.
“Got all we can do just to hold ’im, Mr. Grimm,” one of the masked pirates said.
“Lemme go, ye rank bastards!” Sniff yelled and squirmed. If he’d had whole legs, he might have had leverage enough to get loose. Grimm had to admit his friend was a ferocious fighter.
“Sniff, enough! You reek to high heaven, man. The captain has ordered you bathed. Now stop resisting, or I’ll be forced to cut off your rum rations.”
“Mr. Grimm, I thought ye were my friend.”
“I still am, you lout. I spoke out against keelhauling you to let the barnacles scrape off the worst of the filth first.”
Sniff made a sour face at him as Jon-Jon cut the rigger’s rancid rags off. “Thank ye so much. I’d rather be drowned than boiled alive.”
Grimm made a fist in a staying motion just as they were about to dump Sniff in the tub. “Hold! Don’t put him in the water . . .”
“Oh thank ye, Mr. Grimm!”
He cut his friend’s excited relief short. “Put him in like that and you’ll have a tub of mud within minutes. It takes too long to heat that much water. Just use the dipper to get him wet and use the brush and soap on him. If we run out of water before he’s clean, we’ll just lower him over the side to rinse him off. Shouldn’t kill too many fish that way.”
Screams and curses followed Grimm as he turned and headed for the helm.
Viktor turned from teaching Robert how to read weather signs to smirk at Grimm. “Sounds like it’s going well.”
“As well as can be expected. Never met a man that dead set against a bath.” Grimm chuckled. “Mr. Jon already knows to burn the rags and give him fresh. Had to cut ’em off him.”
Vik laughed and walked over to the rail to look down on the quarterdeck. Robert followed. “Don’t take it so hard, Sniff! Belle requested you be bathed.”
“Well, if that be the case, Cap’n, I’ll let ’em scrub me pink for the lass,” Sniff called back.
Viktor sensed the relief from the three pirates on scrub duty.
“Da! He’s enormous! Will mine get that big?” Robert blurted at the sight of the naked rigging rat.
Vik and Grimm both burst into hearty laughter. Viktor clapped his son on the back and grinned. “Probably not, son. Very few men can match Sniff in size. I admit I don’t.”
“Aye,” Grimm said with tears of mirth in his eyes, “the shame of it is the good Lord gave such a magnificent gift to a man few females would willingly touch.”
Jon-Jon hollered up from the quarterdeck, “We’ve got him as clean as we could. We’ll lower him over the side to rinse off.”
Viktor nodded his assent and watched as Jon-Jon slipped a rope harness around Sniff under his arms. The three scrubbers then helped the legless man over the rail at the cargo net/ladder.
About that time, a dissonant keening sound began to grow to starboard. Vik looked in that direction and saw a frenzied churning headed toward the ship. Figures jumped in the surf as if fleeing from whatever formed a single wake behind them.
He sensed a familiar presence at the edge of his perception. Welcome back, Belle. I see you found some mermaids. He let a wry tone color his mental voice.
Have the boy strip. Legs transforming to a tail while wearing pants is uncomfortable, came her terse mental reply.
“Da, what are those? They sound frightened.”
“Mermaids, and they are. Belladonna is chasing them. She is their natural predator.”
Robert seemed to grow agitated at that. “Can’t you make her stop? What if she catches one?”
Viktor looked at his son and sighed. “Robert, one of the reasons we’ve taught you various types of fighting is so you can protect yourself from predators like sirens, not just against humans. Belle herded these mermaids here for you to join them. I don’t know if she’ll take one as prey or not, but if she does, she will kill and eat the mermaid. It’s what she does, and what she is.”
He saw the torment in his son’s eyes, and a small part of him wished he could shield the boy from such harsh realities. He puzzled briefly over that impulse. It was very unlike him. In the end, he shook it off. Robert was about to enter a very perilous environment. Better he should see the dangers for what they were, if he were to have any hope of surviving.
Viktor satisfied himself with knowing he’d given the young merman tools and knowledge needed to face what he had to.
He watched as Robert’s torment changed to determination. The mermaids had nearly reached the ship. “You say the siren is bringing them to me, Da?”
“Then I have to protect them. They are mine.”
Viktor grasped his son by the arm and let him see the pride and approval in his eyes. “You’ll want to shuck out of those clothes. They’ll only be a hindrance in the water.”
Robert nodded his understanding and stripped off the shirt and breeches. He moved quickly to the rail, climbed up on it, and dove over the side.
Apparently, some of the mermaid pod had approached submerged and much faster than Viktor thought. Several surrounded Robert shortly after he surfaced, their fear of the siren forgotten. The rest of the pod joined them and surrounded the ship.
He saw no sign of Belladonna.
He felt grateful none of the mers started to sing or cavort. The fact Grimm had doled out portions of the special rum helped. Viktor had ordered the precaution in anticipation of the mermaids’ arrival. The liquor tainted with his blood kept the pirate crew in line and ensured none would fall prey to the mermaids’ lure.
“Oi, me lovely! I’ve got somethin’ y’can nibble on!” Sniff’s voice rose from near the water. He’d forgotten Jon-Jon still had the rigging rat lowered over the side to rinse him off.
Vik went to the starboard rail and peered over. He and Grimm, who’d gone to investigate with him, grinned at the sight. A golden-haired mermaid had wrapped her arms around Sniff’s neck and impaled herself on his cock.
A few moments later, Belladonna surged from the water and wrapped a taloned hand around the mermaid’s throat. Viktor saw the mermaid’s body grow rigid; then the siren flung her prey over the rail onto the quarterdeck.
“I will not have your spawn contaminating my food supply, troll,” Belle growled at a terrified Sniff. She then scrambled up the net ladder hand-over-hand. By the time she reached the rail, her tail had reformed into legs.
She swung over to the deck and landed nimbly next to the mermaid. None of the pirates dared approach the pair. Terror painted the mermaid’s features, yet she uttered no sound and remained motionless.
Belladonna crouched over her, but did not touch her. Instead, she held one hand above the mer’s throat and the other over her abdomen.
Viktor saw the siren had retracted her talons, and he felt the unmistakable tingle of a spell being cast.
Suddenly, the mermaid shrieked and doubled over in pain. The siren stepped back, leaving a clear path to the railing. The mermaid moved surprisingly fast and dragged herself to the rail and over it. A trail of bloody slime marked her path.
Belle, her features fully human again, turned and stalked up the stairs to the bridge in all her naked glory.
Viktor knew since he shared a deep mental bond with the siren, but Grimm had to ask. “Why didn’t you eat her? I thought mermaids were your favorite prey.”
She shot the first mate a look of pure disgust. “I wasn’t about to eat that one; Sniff had his cock in her.”
“Have the riggers aloft, get Sniff back on the boat, and let’s make weigh. It’s a long voyage to Tierra del Fuego,” Viktor ordered.