Chapter 48 Hostages p527~537

It was the bell again. It’s rapid ringing could only mean
one of two things, fire or armed attack, then again these
days, it could mean both. MacDonald rushed to the main
deck where he met Denhard. The crew and Inuit armed
and on deck waited for the order to fire. It looked as if
over a hundred men surrounded the SHY LADY in
silence, as if they too were waiting for an order to fire.
“What in the hell are they doing now?” asked Denhard.
Two men stepped forward, rather awkwardly waving
what appeared to be… a white flag.
“Hand me my long glass,” said MacDonald to Grubber,
who was standing closest. MacDonald looked at the
magnified images of everyone surrounding them. The
men holding the white flag were holding each other up,
they appeared to have been badly beaten, they looked
like… “Quickly,” said MacDonald, “get Ahnah up here!”
The Eskimo girl arrived as summoned. “Here,” said
MacDonald, handing her the long glass, “tell me what
you see.”
Ahnah put the glass to her eye and within a short time
there was a sudden intake of breath. It was two of the
hunters that had left earlier and by the looks of things,
they hadn’t fared well in the hands of their aggressors.
“Omoo and Kalut,” said Ahnah, “they are hurt.”
MacDonald ordered his speaking trumpet and handed
it to Ahnah. “Ask them what they want,” he said.
Ahnah spoke through the horn, her words loud over the
ice. For a few minutes there was nothing and then a man
stepped out and shouted to the ship with cupped hands.
“He says he wants to talk,” said the girl.
“We are talking,” said MacDonald. “Ask him what he
Ahnah asked the question and listened to the answer.
“He wants to talk out there, on the ice. He says he will
guarantee our safety.”
MacDonald laughed. “That’s rich! What makes him
think I’m gonna trust him? He attacked us for no reason,
killed and injured our people and blew off the bow of my
ship. These actions don’t exactly create the makings of
an ideal friendship.”
“Still Captain,” said Denhard. “There’s lots of ‘em out
there and they’s armed. I don’t think we’re in much of a
position to argue.” The third mate was becoming edgy.
“I suppose,” said MacDonald. “Mr. Denhard, who’s our
best shooter?”
“Uhmmm… that would be Rivers sir.”
“Good. Have Rivers stand by. Ahnah and I are going
out on the ice. If they try anything while we’re out there,
have Rivers shoot the man I’m talking to.”
“Aye Captain.”
“Ahnah, I need a translator. I’m sorry but I need you
out there with me.”
“I understand Aesop.”
“Alright, tell ‘em you and I are coming out. I’ll meet
with the leader, alone. If anyone else walks out, the
deal’s off.” Ahnah repeated what MacDonald had told her
and waited for a reply.
“What if he don’t go for it?” asked Denhard.
MacDonald grunted. “He will, what has he got to lose?”
“Ya got a point sir.”
“If anything happens,” said MacDonald, “don’t wait for
Ahnah and me, just start shooting. The ground is open,
they’s at a disadvantage. You have the cover and,” the
Captain smiled, “I believe the Army calls it the “high
ground” if I’m not mistaken.”
“Yes sir,” said Denhard.
Ahnah cocked her head to listen and turned to
MacDonald, “He agrees.”
MacDonald took Ahnah gently by the arm. “Alright,
let’s go.” They walked carefully down the frozen wooden
gangplank to the ice that had them trapped. The black
man walked confidently toward the one who distanced
himself from the others. Ahnah took her cue from
MacDonald and did her best to appear unafraid. The
three continued to walk towards each other, the only
noise being their boots crunching in the snow, a lonely
sound. Finally the three came to a stop, a distance of
roughly six feet separating them. The two men appraised
each other in silence. Each showed himself to be an
impressive adversary to the other. Ahnah knew right
away that this was her mother’s wayward brother.
The Inuit smiled. He liked a challenge. MacDonald
waited for him to speak and was mildly surprised when
he did so, Ahnah translating the words of both men.
“You are MacDonald, first mate of the SHY LADY,”
said Lak.
“You have me at a loss,” said MacDonald.
“I am called Lak,” the other simply replied.
“Well, Lak, perhaps you can tell me why you attacked
my ship?”
The Inuit smiled. “The answer is a simple one. I want
MacDonald laughed, “And of course, you didn’t think to
just ask for it?”
“Oh, I did but I knew you would need some
“Alright,” said MacDonald. “Let’s get down to it. Why
are we here?”
“That is one of my questions, MacDonald.”
“We’re whaling, why else would we be here?”
“I don’t know but hunting whales is something you are
not doing. Not that it matters, I’ll know soon enough.”
“What do you want?” asked MacDonald.
“I told you, your ship.”
“And I’m supposed to just hand it over and you let us
go, is that it?”
Lak nodded. “My point has been made. I need your
people and the Eskimos alive, from them the story will
MacDonald understood. Survivors of any attack or
disaster were always listened to and witness’ to Lak’s
power would put fear into others and give some second
thoughts about any opposition to the man.
“You can’t sail the ship, you don’t know how,” said
MacDonald. He didn’t bother to mention that the damage
that the SHY LADY had sustained had made that pretty
much impossible anyway.
“That is my business, I just want the ship,” replied Lak.
MacDonald thought. The SHY LADY was too heavily
damaged and was taking on water even as they spoke. It
was becoming a losing battle for those manning the
pumps, nor did it help matters that the ice was
squeezing the life from the wounded ship. As McKee had
mentioned, Dunn’s work had strengthened the ship but
it’s death was inevitable.
“We can keep shooting at each other,” said Lak, “but
that would defeat both our purposes. More damage to the
ship which concerns me and you and your people would
be dead. That part would be unfortunate but that would
concern you more than myself.”
MacDonald looked at the renegade, he couldn’t argue
with his reasoning. “I’ll need some time to think.”
Lak nodded, “I’ll give you three hours and as a show of
good faith, I’ll give you the two hunters you sent out.”
“We sent out four hunters,” said MacDonald.
Lak shrugged his shoulders, “Two are dead. I give you
two that are alive.” Lak opened a small pocket watch. “If
you do not signal us with a white flag within three hours,
we will resume our attacks.”
“I understand,” said MacDonald. “One more thing,
what of Captain Mason and his party?”
Lak smiled, there was no reason to lie. “Mason? I’m
sure they are all dead by now. Another reason for you to
see your circumstances as fortunate.”
Jon Mason, dead? MacDonald found the information
hard to believe but if it was true, he’d mourn later. He
had other things to think of at the moment. Ahnah told
the injured hunters just released to them to return to the
“Alright three hours then.” As he and Ahnah turned to
leave, Lak spoke causing the Inuit girl to stop.
“You look like your mother.”
Ahnah stood there for a moment. “Aesop, return to the
ship, I’ll follow you shortly.”
The black man shook his head. “I don’t think it’s a good
idea Ahnah. We should go back together.”
“I’ll be fine Aesop, really. Go back to the ship. I’ll be
there in a few moments.”
MacDonald nodded, “Alright Ahnah, but if you ain’t,
there’s gonna be hell to pay.” He and the Inuit hunters
continued towards the SHY LADY. Ahnah turned to face
her uncle.
“My mother told me of you.”
Lak gave a dry laugh, “I’m sure she did.”
“Are the outsiders who left the ship really dead?” asked
“Perhaps, why?”
“My brother and one called Wacha was with them and
an outsider called Dunn.”
“My men and Keelut follow them. Do not hope.”
Ahnah looked at her uncle in anger, “A mad dog would
do no worse!”
“He serves a purpose, just as you do, daughter of my
sister, remember that.”
Ahnah turned and quickly caught up with Aesop and
the others as they were about to board the ship. “What
the hell was that all about?” asked MacDonald.
Ahnah shook her head, “Nothing Aesop, it was
Ogwah stood with Lak watching MacDonald and
Ahnah walk to the ship. “What do you think?” Ogwah
asked, wondering if he and the band leader were alike in
their thoughts.
“He has little choice. This MacDonald is a fighter but
he’s also a realist and has more to worry about than we
do.” Lak smiled, “Worry not Ogwah, the ship will be ours
in three hours.”
When MacDonald and Ahnah came aboard the SHY
LADY with Omoo and Kalut, everyone on deck waited
with a questioning look in their eyes.
“Denhard, McKee, make a round of the ship and meet
me in my cabin in twenty minutes. Denhard, bring the
charts. Ahnah, take Omoo and Kalut to Ed, see what he
can do for ‘em and come to my cabin when you’re done.”
All three acknowledged his orders and MacDonald went
below. He had already decided what needed to be done
and there was little time to lose. Twenty minutes later,
the third mate, the carpenter and the Eskimo girl were
in the first mate’s cabin.
“The second pump is down, I can’t fix it,” said McKee.
“The ship is slowly sinking. With the ice pushing against
her, if she stays afloat more than a week, I’ll be
MacDonald nodded. “Denhard, where’s that chart of
the Lincoln Sea?”
“Here sir,” he said, handing him a rolled map.
MacDonald spread it out on his bunk and marked their
approximate position.
“Alright, listen up. We’re going to abandon the ship.”
The three looked at MacDonald in surprise, they
weren’t expecting this.
“Mr. MacDonald,” said Denhard, “I don’t think that’s
such a good idea.”
“Yeah, Mr. MacDonald,” continued McKee, “if ya give
me just a little more time…”
MacDonald shook his head. “No, listen. It’s just a
matter of time before this ship goes under, she’s no
longer seaworthy and you can bet your sweet ass we
won’t be going home aboard her.” He saw the bowed
heads nodding. “But, if we get out of here while the ice is
still stable, there’s a good chance we can survive.”
“And go where?” said McKee. “In case ya haven’t
noticed Mr. MacDonald, we’re in the middle of nowhere!”
MacDonald took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“McKee, it only looks like we’re in the middle of nowhere.
The ship is here,” he said pointing. “We have two possible
destinations. Grant Land on Ellesmere Island or maybe
Hall Land in Greenland.”
“And which may I ask,” said Denhard, “is the lesser of
two evils?”
“Hall Land,” said Ahnah before MacDonald could speak.
“My people are familiar with the land. Further south is a
trading post, near… here, Savigisvik,” she said pointing.
“Christ! Do you see how far that is?” said Denhard.
“What do you think our chances are of getting there?”
“And what do you think our chances are if we stay
here?” asked MacDonald. “Ahnah’s right, Hall land is our
best option.”
“Sir, even if we give the ship to this… Lak,” said McKee,
“what’s to prevent him from coming after us?”
MacDonald shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing. He does
need some of our people alive but not necessarily all of us
and that brings me to the second part of my plan.”
Lak could see the white flag waving and smiled, not
that he didn’t think MacDonald wasn’t a reasonable man
but it did restore his faith in the basic instinct of man…
survival. He saw two people walk off the ship. That could
only be his niece, Ahnah and MacDonald. Lak walked out
to meet them halfway. Once again, the three stopped
within six feet of each other. “Your decision, MacDonald?”
The Captain of the SHY LADY looked at the renegade
leader. “We’ll need some time to get all our people off the
Lak nodded, “You’ve had three hours, I’ll give you two
“We need longer than two,” said MacDonald. “We need
to take care of our dead.”
Lak shook his head, “You get two, that’s all. Take what
you need and leave the rest.”
“And we have your word that no harm will come to our
people,” said MacDonald.
“I won’t hurt your people. You have my word. That’s
what’s important to you people isn’t it?” asked Lak, “a
man’s word?”
MacDonald nodded, “Two hours then.” He and Ahnah
turned and walked back to the SHY LADY. Lak grinned.
In two hours, all would be right. He would be the most
powerful chief of all the bands.