The dark days and nights passed endlessly, one blending into the other, a relentless world of black enclosing them in its womb. The only way to tell the difference between day and night was by sound. At night, all was quiet aboard the ship. During the day, bellows and shouts ricocheted within the cavern's walls, accompanied by the clang of metal and the thud of sledgehammers as the crew and VanCleef's men worked to finish the last adjustments to the ships weaponry.
Myra remained in the sitting room, sleeping, drinking wine and drifting back and forth from the open window, keeping her vigil. She spoke softly to herself now and again, nonsense words that had no meaning to anyone but her. Idira ate her evening meals with VanCleef in a constant state of dread, encouraging Vanessa to talk so Myra might not speak out and say something which would damn them all.
One evening over dinner, Vanessa was telling her father about a story Idira had read to her about a man who had caught a golden fish and was granted three wishes only to lose everything in the end and have less than what he had started out with when Myra dropped her cutlery onto her plate and screamed, crying out in agony. She slid from her chair onto the floor, doubled over, clutching at her torso.
'The baby!' she panted, scrabbling at the material between her legs, pushing her fists into her crotch as though she could force it stay inside her. 'Save my baby!'
A dark stain blossomed out through the material of her gown, spreading fast. Blood. Idira licked her lips, fighting her rising panic. It was all over now. VanCleef would kill them both.
VanCleef bolted over to Myra and collected her up, shouting for the ship's doctor as he carried her into their room. Not knowing what else to do, Idira followed after them, watching as VanCleef pulled her gown up, the blood soaking through her loose undergarments, spilling out onto the blankets. VanCleef held her, and reassured her, saying he didn't know they were going to have another baby and why didn't she tell him, going on about how much he loved her and how everything would be all right. Myra screamed and began to strain, pushing herself up so her back pressed against the wall. She grabbed hold of VanCleef's forearm and bore down, her feet braced against the sides of the bed frame.
'No!' she screamed, even as her body forced her to deliver, giving birth to her unformed child. 'NO!' she sobbed as something bloody and shaped like a little bag slid out past her sodden undergarments and onto the bed. She looked at it in horror and wailed, still clinging to VanCleef's arm. 'Benny! Our baby!'
VanCleef pulled himself free, shoving her away from him. He stood over her, staring at her, quivering. 'You are mistaken,' he said, his words hard and jagged. 'You meant to say my name. That was our baby.'
Myra shook her head, sobbing. 'No . . . '
VanCleef hit her then, so hard she tumbled off the bed and slammed against the wall. Idira backed away and ran up the ladder, crying out for Unambi, tripping on the hem of her dress in her hurry to put distance between herself and VanCleef. Unambi came to her from out of the dark, his yellow eyes gleaming in the torchlight.
'Unambi be here,' he said, his voice warm and reassuring, calming her. 'Hush now, don' ya be frettin', Unambi be here.' He pulled her into his arms, and together they listened to Myra's hysterical weeping, and the sound of VanCleef's booted feet pacing the narrow confines of the sitting room. The ship's doctor arrived, after a few minutes he returned holding something small and round in a bloody towel. He went to the side of the ship and threw it overboard, it landed in the water with a quiet splash. Idira waited until he went back down before running to the ship's side. She caught the last of the towel's material slipping under the water's inky surface. The water rippled, a creature, long and sinuous broke the water's surface, sliding down after the fetus. Idira choked, sickened by the thought of a little baby being thrown to the monsters in the dark waters below, its tiny body torn apart by the creature's razor-sharp teeth. Clenching the railing, she closed her eyes and willed herself to wake up, begging, praying, imploring the Light to make her nightmare end.
VanCleef moved out of their quarters that day, taking Vanessa with him, though she cried and said she didn't want to leave and go up into the dark. Idira was sent back down, the hatch closed and locked behind her. Idira could hear Unambi appealing to VanCleef, saying Idira was innocent. But VanCleef said nothing. He just walked away.
For four days Idira waited, terrified, thinking of the day VanCleef had disembowelled the maid all those years ago in the inner courtyard of the house, sick with fear Myra would face the same end. Despite her despair, she took hope at the sight of food being brought to them three times a day. If he intended to kill them, why would he continue to feed them as well as he had always done?
Early on the morning of the fifth day, as Idira sat at the table toying with her breakfast, she heard booted feet approaching the hatch. The bolt slid back. No one was supposed to come again until lunch. She stood up, panting. Here it comes, she thought. Now we die.
Myra crept out from her bedroom, still weak from having lost so much blood. She clung, shaking, to the doorjamb and peered up at the hatch as it opened, her eyes wide and fearful. Losing her baby and their subsequent incarceration had finally pushed through Myra's shattered mind and dragged her back to her senses, filling her with regret and terror for what was to come.
One of VanCleef's men came down the ladder and gestured for them to follow him up. Idira tried to take a measure of him, but his expression remained impassive, giving nothing away. Trembling, she went to Myra and helped her sister up the ladder. They came out onto the top deck, blinking in the light of dozens of burning torches. VanCleef's men stood assembled all around the deck, Idira recognised some of the ship's pirate crew too, further back, their eyes glittering in the torchlight, anticipating the show.
Standing before them, wearing his sleeveless black leather tunic and breeches, his swords hanging from the belt on his hips, VanCleef looked at Myra, his arms crossed over his chest, his biceps bulging. He lowered his arms and walked over to her, making a full circuit around her. He stopped beside her and tilted his head down so his mouth brushed against her ear.
'Did you miss my warm body beside you at night? Is that why you went to him?' he whispered. He reached out and lifted a tress of her hair. 'Did you crave my attention while I wasn't there to give it to you, hm?'
Myra said nothing. She stood as still as a statue, staring straight ahead, her eyes shining with unshed tears.
VanCleef stepped back, his chest rising and falling, infuriated by her refusal to accept his explanation for her behaviour. 'Did you?!' he bellowed, his hands moving to the hilts of his swords.
Myra flinched and began to quake.
'Answer me,' he breathed.
Myra shook her head, a tear escaped, sliding down her face.
Silence fell, not one of VanCleef's men moved. VanCleef stood, trembling with rage, his eyes boring into her, furious. He nodded, terse. 'Fine. Have it your way.' He turned but did not take his eyes from her. 'Bring him in,' he called out.
A commotion broke out at the furthest edge of the group, near the scaffolding. The crowd parted, making space for two men to come through. Kip appeared first, his hand on the arm of someone behind him, following after him.
'Benny,' Myra whispered, sinking to her knees.
Someone touched Idira's shoulder, she jumped and looked behind her. Unambi nodded at her, motioning for her to go to him. Everyone was looking at Benny, some with curiosity, others with veiled admiration, at the man who had made VanCleef, the leader of the Brotherhood into a cuckold. Despite her proximity to Myra, no one was looking at Idira. She shuffled backwards until she was beside Unambi. He reached out and took her hand, his expression so sad, it made her heart ache.
'Don' be lookin',' he warned, low.
But Idira already knew what VanCleef was capable of, knew underneath all his polish and elegant charm a dark and vengeful creature lurked who relished the indiscriminate power of one who could take lives without any consequences to himself. She had allowed herself to be blinded to his true nature, by listening to the words of Nin, as she justified his many crimes in the name of a greater good. No more. She would watch, and she would never forget, would never again allow herself to be seduced by the myth of VanCleef, the unsung hero. He was a bad man, just like Papa, no he was worse than Papa, because at least Papa didn't pretend to be good. And now, Benny was going to die because VanCleef couldn't make Myra love him.
His face utterly impassive, Kip stopped in front of VanCleef and let Benny go. Benny and Myra gazed at each other, their eyes telling everyone the truth, that no one, not even VanCleef could ever come between them.
'I love ye Myra,' Benny said, low. 'I'll find ye, in the Nether. Whenever ye come ta me, I'll be there, waitin' like I allus have.'
A stiletto flashed in VanCleef's hand, he rammed it in between Benny's ribs, puncturing his lung. Benny staggered and fell to his knees. He reached out to Myra, his fingertips caressing her face. VanCleef's sword slashed down, severing Benny's arm at the elbow. Benny fell back onto his haunches with a jagged cry, scrabbling at his bloody stump, his face paling. The stiletto flashed again, into Benny's abdomen, once, twice, three times. A stink rose up as the gases in his body escaped. Kip came forward holding a hangman's noose in his hands, suggesting it was time to end this, but VanCleef shook his head, his eyes glittering in the torchlight, hungry for more.
He circled Benny once, then kicked him in the shoulder, sending him sprawling onto the deck. Benny flailed, blood spraying from the stump of his severed arm, splattering those around him. VanCleef stepped over Benny, straddling him, and pulled a hidden dagger from his tunic. He bent down and cut the laces holding Benny's breeches closed, taking great care not to nick him, his work almost seductive. Myra cried out, horrified, and grabbed hold of VanCleef's leg, begging him to stop. VanCleef kicked her aside, sending her tumbling into his men.
Groaning and sliding in his blood, Benny pulled himself up, struggling to come to his feet. His face twisting with hate, VanCleef rammed his booted foot against the base of Benny's throat. Benny slammed back onto the deck, juddering as he fought to free himself. VanCleef scoffed and reached down into Benny's open trousers, grabbing hold of something Idira couldn't see. He smiled, cold, and with a rough jerk of his dagger he pulled something free. Myra screamed, and Benny bellowed, gagging in agony. VanCleef spun around, holding Benny's bloody genitals in his hand, triumphant. He flung the grisly thing away, it slid across the deck, a tangled mess of hair and flesh. A stunned silence swept over the crowd, several of the men looked away, and more than one turned to retch over the side of the ship.
Benny still breathed, though his breaths came out ragged and broken, his punctured lung making the blood bubble on his tunic. He bled out, blood pumping out in deep, slow gouts from his groin, torso and the stump of his arm. Though he shuddered and gasped, his face rigid with shock and pain, he kept his eyes on Myra. He blinked at her, slow, as his final breaths left him.
Myra crawled over to him and clutched his bloody hand to her mouth, kissing it, weeping, her eyes locked on his, staying with him to the end.
'I love you,' she breathed, 'I never, ever stopped.'
VanCleef roared, furious, and pulled his sword free. He raised it high, preparing to behead Myra. She waited, her eyes locked on Benny's, kneeling in his blood, her face and dress spattered with it, holding his gaze even as the light in his eyes died.
Idira clung to Unambi so hard, her fingers hurt. Fear and shock held her in its thrall, she could only watch horrified and helpless as Benny died and Myra awaited her execution. She began to quake, certain she would be next, and then Unambi. This was how it would end, here in the dark, their bodies fed to the monsters below.
VanCleef continued to hold the sword up for a long time. His arm began to shake. 'Look at me!' he cried, his voice raw with jealousy and need. 'Just once, look at me.'
Myra lifted her eyes from Benny's dead ones and looked at VanCleef, dull. He stared at her, his face contorting as a multitude of emotions rode through him. He lowered the sword and pulled her to her feet, his arm going around her, possessive. He pulled her against him and kissed her, fierce, uncaring that Benny's blood coated her lips.
'No. It's over,' he murmured as he dropped his sword. It fell to the deck with a clatter. 'He's gone. Forever. You are mine now. I could never kill you. I would kill myself first.'
Myra didn't respond, she stood, numb, hanging like a doll in his arms, her eyes vacant, letting him rant and rave, kissing her over and over, his bloody hands in her hair, swearing his love for her was greater than any which had gone before. Her eyes went back to Benny's as VanCleef promised she would soon see what he could see, as he described their idyllic future, how they would be a family and happy once more, just as they once had been.
His men shifted, uncomfortable, drifting away one by one, until only Unambi, Kip, and Idira remained.
VanCleef looked up from stroking Myra's hair from her face at Benny's ruined body. 'I am not a bad man,' he said, soft. 'You must understand, it is other people who force me to do the things necessary to keep everything right. You will see. One day, when all this is over, you will love me, so much more than you ever loved him.'