Even if VanCleef hadn't lied when he'd said he had made a home for them with every comfort, Idira longed to leave—even being back at the farm, cold and half-starved would be better than this. With Vanessa's hand in hers, she followed VanCleef from the little dock at the ship's base up the ramps of scaffolding to the ship's top deck. Beyond the blazing light of the torches, a wall of darkness pressed down on them, threatening to consume them. From out of nowhere Idira recalled a childhood fairytale of a ship swallowed by an enormous whale, the inside of the cavern seemed no different to her than the whale's belly as it had been described in her book. She shuddered.
The hatch in the top deck leading down to their quarters stood within a cabin, VanCleef's office. She clambered down the ladder after Vanessa to discover five rooms: a washroom with a privy closet and a bath, complete with plumbing, two bedrooms, one for VanCleef and Myra and one for Vanessa and Idira, a study for VanCleef and a sitting room which also held a dining table. Their quarters lay tucked at the rear of the ship, its total space adding up to no more than the size of VanCleef's bedroom in the big house. Unambi soon learned he was far too big to fit through the narrow hatch to their quarters and was forced to retreat to the top deck. One of the crewmen was sent to hang a hammock for him. Idira overheard Unambi had moved it afterwards, into VanCleef's office so it was by the ladder leading to their quarters.
VanCleef walked them from room to room, showing them all the little things he had done to modify the ship for their stay, completely oblivious to their distress, behaving like an excited schoolboy showing off a pet project.
He finished his tour and brought them to the dining table, making everyone sit on the chairs bolted to the floor. Food and wine arrived on a large tray, carried by a middle-aged shaven-headed pirate with a patch over his eye. Idira gaped at the long white scar which stretched from his patch up to his scalp and all the way down to his upper lip. He caught her looking and smiled at her, making the scar move across his face in a disconcerting way. Idira lowered her gaze back down to her plate, her cheeks burning, embarrassed to have been caught staring.
He carried on with his work, setting out bowls of thick potato soup and a platter of fresh baked rolls with a flourish. He then placed a linen napkin over his arm and served the wine with as much care as a refined butler. The meal wasn't fancy but it was hot and there was more than enough for everyone, even Myra ate a little.
VanCleef continued to talk throughout the meal, filling them in on his project and all he had accomplished over the last months. Idira looked at the others, eating in subdued silence, no one looking at him, or answering him, for the time being hunger overcoming even the terror of the oppressive darkness which clawed, incessant, at the windows and doorways.
The meal finished, VanCleef stood up and told them he had work to do and not to wait up for him. He bent to kiss Myra. She flinched and pulled away from him. He drew back, looking genuinely puzzled. He regarded her for a moment then shook his head and went up the ladder. Idira heard him calling to the workers, asking how the positioning for the third cannon had gone in his absence. As his booted footsteps retreated, Idira heard him whistle a jaunty tune. She glanced at Myra, several buttons on her bodice had come free when she had panicked on the boat, leaving the neck hanging open a little more than it should. It would need mending, and soon.
Idira stood up. She had to do something, anything, sitting here would make her lose her mind. She decided to go through their bags, left in a heap in the middle of the sitting room. She called Vanessa over to help her. She would start with Vanessa's things first, and put them out for her in their room.
It took the rest of the evening to unpack their belongings and stow them into the little cubbyholes hidden in their cabins. Vanessa and Idira each had a berth tucked up against a wall with a little cupboard standing between them, which they used to store their meagre amount of clothing and what few possessions they still had. Myra and VanCleef's room had a large double bed in it, a feather mattress tucked inside a wooden frame bolted to the floor. Idira had to admit, VanCleef had tried very hard to make their quarters comfortable. Soft blankets and cushions covered every hard surface, and candles burned everywhere in golden candelabra, once more surrounding them in the warm glow of gold.
In the sitting room, adjacent to the dining table, five diamond-paned leaded windows reflected the candlelight back into the room. Idira went and unlocked the latch of the middle one. It lifted up. She looked down. Far below, the waters of the cavern lapped against the ship, murky and dark. Something moved, sinuous and heavy in the water, sliding in the darkness. The hairs lifting on the back of her neck, she closed the window again and locked the latch, her imagination offering unpleasant images of what sort of creatures lurked at the bottom of those bleak waters.
Idira decided to keep Blackie in her room until she got used to the ship's smells and sounds. For the time being at least, the cat seemed quite content to remain on Idira's bed, eating from a dish filled with morsels sent up from the galley. There would be enough time for her to explore and catch rats later.
For the next two months, Myra did nothing apart from sit on the cushioned settee and stare into thin air. Idira took care of Vanessa, washing her, playing with her and reading to her. One evening after putting her niece to bed, she brought her sister some wine. Myra took it and drank deep. She settled the cup into her lap and gazed at the windows.
'He's going to come for me,' she whispered. 'He won't leave me here, he can't, not knowing what he knows.'
'Shh! Be careful what you say,' Idira hissed, looking over her shoulder, in case anyone had overheard. Myra ignored her. Idira waved her hand in front of her sister's face. She didn't respond.
'Myra you have to pull yourself together. Vanessa needs you,' Idira reminded her. 'I'm not enough. She needs her mother. She's afraid of the dark.'
Myra looked up. 'Vanessa?' she scoffed. 'That is not my child. She belongs to him. The only one who needs me is the babe growing inside me.' Her hand moved to cradle her abdomen.
Idira stared at her sister. 'You're pregnant?' she mouthed, terrified to say the word out loud. 'Does you-know-who know?'
Myra nodded and met Idira's eyes, her sister's face becoming flushed from the wine. 'As soon as he can get enough men together,' she whispered, a little too loud for Idira's comfort, 'he will come and kill VanCleef, and then we will move to our farm in Elwynn Forest. He promised.'
Idira sank back onto her haunches, her sister must be referring to something Benny had said while they were still living in the house. If Benny were to try something so foolish in here, he would never get out alive. She didn't even know how he could get in alive. She nodded at Myra and patted her sister's hand. 'I'm sure you will, but until then, promise me you will never speak of this again.' An idea struck her, she took a chance. 'He told me to tell you that.'
Myra's eyes widened, like a child's. 'Oh! You've had a message from him?'
Idira blinked, her heart aching. If her sister believed that, she was already far gone. 'Yes, just this morning. He said you were to promise me,' she repeated, using the kind of voice one uses to speak to the insane.
'I promise, now all I have to do is wait. I am sure he won't be long.' She went to the window and unlatched it. She lifted it up, hooked it open and leaned out the window. She turned her head and lifted her face, as though warming it against an imaginary sun. 'The breeze is lovely,' she murmured.
Idira backed away, horror clutching at her. How long would Myra be able to hide the evidence of her affair with Benny from VanCleef? How long would she remember not to say what she was thinking? VanCleef left them alone almost all the time, but still, she could say something in her sleep, or at dinner—an offhand remark. Eventually, with enough time, she would show. Perhaps they could convince VanCleef the baby was his. Idira knew VanCleef had taken Myra often enough, she'd heard his moans in the night, even with the pillow over her ears, though she had never heard Myra. Idira pressed her hands to her face, hopelessness overwhelming her. She was only twelve, well, almost twelve-and-a-half, but still, what did she know about things like this? She needed Lanira. Her minder would know what to do, how to manage Myra. Idira glanced at the hatch, it was open. She could hear Unambi singing a song to himself, low. It sounded sad.
Even though she hated being on the top deck of the ship where she couldn't escape the feeling of the mountain's weight crushing down upon her, she clambered up the ladder. She needed to hear Unambi's rich voice telling her everything was going to be all right, even if it was a lie. Please, she prayed as she scrambled up the ladder, anything, just as long as it gave her something to hang on to, to bolster her own fraying grip on whether she was even real anymore, locked in this world of black—just to be reassured her worst fear wasn't being realised, and she had become trapped in a nightmare from which she would never wake.