"Yer hopeless at this, aren't yew?" The seasoned searat looked exasperated as she regarded the tangle of rope at her footpaws. Green little ferret from inland knew nothing -- his way of coiling a line was apparently to make a daisy-chain out of it like some starstruck woodlander. She sighed, and her earrings jangled as she looked up to see her trainee was standing stock-still. "Oy, pay attention!"
The ferret cringed but didn't obey. Captain was aft, scanning the sea behind them intently. The recruit wanted to know what required such careful study and all three aides with maps. "Wot's goin' on?"
The rat swatted the rest of the rope out of the younger one's paws and, grinning as he cringed again, decided she'd like to knock the cockiness out of him as quick as she could. He'd thank her for it. "C'mere, I'll tell yer."
"There's one beast th' Captain fears, and if yew know wot's good fer yew, y'learn to fear 'im, too. He's haunted the wake of this ship for years -- Captain's Captain, and his Captain, and--" The rat scratched her head, unsure of how many Captains she'd seen and how many of them there had been. "Anyway. He was a fearsome beast, and this ship was part of his fleet, once. The... er, the first Captain, she took it from him and she sailed off, lookin' for better pickin's. But she never stopped runnin'."
There was a snort. "Huh. Bunch of idjits, yew all. Huhuhuhuhuhu--"
She slapped him, and before he could react she grabbed him by the dirty kerchief around his arrogant little neck. "Yew wos scared of Captain there, wosn't yer? I saw yer." He was taller, but he was cowed; the scars on her face and her chipped teeth, now bared and dangerously close to his whiskers, were probably what did it. She dropped her voice to a low, mocking growl.
"'Oooo, spare meee!' yew said. 'Don't hurrrrt me,' yew said. And if yew think yer all high an' mighty now, don't yew think fer a blink that Cap couldn' still gut yer before mornin' grog jus' cos yer annoying. I've been through things that'd make yew wail so loud yer mother'd sit up again in surprise, and all that doesn' half scare me as much as it oughta scare yew when Captain's in a mood, all right?"
No reply; the ferret was struck dumb. The rat shook him; he squeaked.
"An' if yer afeared o' me, and I'm afeared o' Cap, and Cap's lookin' out fer summat like he's afeared of it, what d'yer think yew should be shakin' in yer boots at the thought of?" She shook him again, and he let out a pitiful little wail.
The rat grinned a nasty grin; she had the upper paw - and this recruit might shape up to be a good one if he feared the right beasts. "Lissen close, cos I'm goin' to tell yer the name that'll haunt yer sleep, the name that beasts who were gray afore yew were born feared when they wos terror of the seas. Eh? I'm lettin' yew know as a favor, cos if yew botch a single thing when it counts, it's not just yer neck in Cap's paws. It's all o' us, at the mercy of a creature who knows none."
The ferret made no move.
That night, the ferret thrashed around in the grip of the worst nightmare of his life; his hammock nearly strangled him. He'd dreamed that some great terror with fiery eyes came sailing out of Hellgates, perched crow-like atop the mainmast of a dead ship and reaching out with claws made of black metal and bones. A scream had come from the boiling black clouds of its body, and it had been the ferret's name.
But what made him fear more was that hardly anybeast laughed at him while he struggled, ashamed, to free himself of his twisted and knotted hammock. They all knew.