All I can hear, apart from a few bugs and birds making odd noises from somewhere I can’t see, is the sound of moving water as it tumbles off the hot tub thingy and spills into the pool, making a “blub-blub-blub” sound. The weather called for thunderstorms today but I can only see clear blue when I look up. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a storm though; those things seem to appear out of nowhere and vomit up a half-ocean of water upon Davenport in a split second. But regardless, God has given me a good day. And I’m eating Jolly Ranchers. It doesn’t get much better than that.
I’m trying to decide where to let my mind wander as I sit here. What’ll it be today? Superheroes? Super-villains? A self-reflecting version of a Tomb Raider? Zombies? Storm Troopers? Pirates?
Pirates. Definitely pirates. (When in doubt, always go with pirates).
This morning I want to encounter danger, just for kicks. And since Phil just started piping in answers to Family Feud from somewhere in the house behind me, I’ll try to keep focused without adding any random words, like “chips” or “picnic” or whatever else I hear him yell out.
Here I am with open water in every direction and not a single pebble of land in sight. The water seems calm. But I know a storm is coming because the wind makes an eerie grumble and moves back and forth across my flesh, giving me chills that I decide to hide from my crew. A captain should never let on about her fears.
Of course, I’m the Captain. It’s only logical.
I dragged my crew from their favourite island, the comfortable yet occasionally dangerous port called Daven, which crawls with law enforcement who don’t take kindly to people like me and my crew of water thieves. We’ve been asked to leave during more than one visit, which often results in a ridiculous looking bar fight during which I sit back and wait it out until its over. My men all collapse eventually. I chose them for their ability to work under stressful and non-ideal conditions but if I’m being honest, they’re all terrible fighters.
It’s embarrassing. Sometimes when we port in new places I pretend I don’t know them.
Jolly Rancher had the worst attitude about leaving Daven this time. He’s still back on the Poop Deck staring back towards the island that left our view three hours ago, pouting. What a baby. In fact, why any of my crew even like the Daven Port is beyond me. The place is jam packed with poison ivy and every single one of those nut bars has caught it.
When I raise my spyglass to try and spot anything in the distance that isn’t liquid I feel a tap on my shoulder. I pull my eyes back without fully turning around to see my first mate Orlando Cross, the most well groomed pirate on my ship and the only pirate on the seas that I can fully trust, mostly because he doesn’t look or act like a pirate. I raise my eyebrow to invite him to tell me what he wants. He holds up a basket with bananas and coconuts inside.
“Boys want a picnic,” he states.
I stare at him, unwavering. I don’t even know what to say.
I turn back to the water without responding and raise my spyglass again. As I do, I hear a crumpling sound that reminds me of walking on dry leaves.
“We have chips,” Orlando offers. When I look back this time I see that he’s pulled a bag of them out of the basket and is holding them up for me to see. How he managed to score those is a mystery. But I hesitate. We have a job to do and I hate wasting time. But I do love chips.
Orlando challenges me. “Bet you can’t eat just one.”
* * *
I ate several. And I don’t regret it. I can still taste the salt that lingers on my lips when I bite them in thought.
“We ought to head South. If this rumoured sea lord is as bad as they say she is, then she won’t be afraid to venture into the Dragon’s Throat,” I say.
A number of heads snap in my direction, including Orlando’s. Mostly they just blink in surprise. Jolly Rancher puts his hands on his hips like he’s having a temper tantrum.
“I’ll throw myself to the sharks before I let you take me into the Dragon’s Throat!” he hisses.
“Be my guest. And I never said we were going into the Dragon’s Throat. I said we were going to head towards it.” I want to smack him. He doesn’t deserve the name “Jolly”. He can be such a bear.
“You heard the lass! Man up, you soft shelled tacos!” Orlando barks at the men. They start moving about the ship and I look out across the sea towards one of the most dangerous canals I’d ever heard whispers about. The men who’d built it had been eaten alive by dragons, or so they say. I was just a girl at the time and the tales had sunken deep into the most tormented parts of my brain, giving me nightmares for weeks.
But I grew out of that.
I turn and cross the Spar Deck, glancing up at the Foremast. I see Crabby Joe high up in the Main Top flicking peanut sized chunks of wood from where he’s sitting. Even though he’s far away I can hear him whistling like a content child. Apart from Jolly Rancher, Crabby Joe will probably have the biggest issue with heading towards the Dragon’s Throat when he finds out. I can only pray that we don’t actually have to go inside once we get there. I don’t know if I will force my crew to follow the sea criminal into the canal if I see her go in. I’m undecided about that.
The lassie’s name is Blue Diamond. She’s a sea brute who’s shameless trail of crime has put many old friends of mine in a kerfuffle. I’m only going after her to even the score.
Well, that and because yesterday a reward was placed on her head that I couldn’t refuse.
I feel the pull of the ship as it turns against the ocean. Orlando is behind my wheel, carrying out my directions. I want to steer the ship myself though so I head towards the stern.
When I get there, I feel a chilled wind ripple through my clothes and it makes me pause. Though I don’t see a ship behind us, I have a dawning feeling that we are not alone. I glance up at the clouds that are forming above in large chunks spotted with an unpleasant grey. The storm I anticipated is crawling over us. I think it’s about to explode into a wicked chaos. I would swear if I thought it would help. But I know it won’t, so instead I turn to Orlando.
“Let me steer. And get this ship at full speed,” I say to him. He sees the uneasy look on my face but doesn’t ask. Maybe he already noticed the storm coming in.
* * *
I think that maybe I can relax now that the clouds seem to be holding their tears, and because we are a few more hours into our search and I know Orlando is overseeing the pansies. I even close my eyes for a moment just to feel the air, but when I open them and glance ahead towards the cliffs, something else catches my eye, something that shouldn’t be there. And I second guess myself because of the likelihood. But when the red sails peek out from behind the jagged rock I instantly understand why I’d felt like we weren’t alone.
“Cross!” I yell at Orlando, suddenly in full pursuit mode. He whips around and catches my gaze, his silver buttoned up jacket making him look like a British gentleman who got lost looking for his afternoon tea and found himself on my ship by accident. “There’s a ship ahead! Someone must have been following us!” I call down to him, even though I am already halfway down the stairs to the main deck.
The men have already started to notice; I see Crabby Joe standing far above us, pointing frantically and yelling like he’s been trying to get our attention for a number of minutes. I won’t ask why he didn’t just climb down and grab me to make me see but I let it go. I have bigger problems now. The foreign ship is turning in our direction; it’s obvious.
I almost drop my spyglass when I rip it out of my pocket, but I catch it amidst my fumble. I’m nervous.
“Captain, the sails are red!” Palm yells at me like I’m not standing a foot away from him.
“I know!” I shout back, pulling the spyglass to my eye. The circular picture I see wavers up and down. My hands are shaking. Blimey.
“So the Blue Diamond keeps her sails black and blue!” he is still yelling and it takes me a moment to register what he is saying. I drop my spyglass. Palm is right. This isn’t Blue Diamond’s ship.
“Then who’s following us?” I ask, my nerves finally beginning to settle. My eyes narrow in on the wide boat with scarlet sails, the one who’s crew seems to have known about us for longer than we’d known about them.
“Can’t tell. It’s unmarked. But they’re coming right toward us now,” Orlando says, raising his own spyglass.
I stand silently for a moment as I think. We’ve come too far to turn and run away. But just beyond this new ship is the Dragon’s Throat canal which I think I’d like an excuse to run from.
Run or fight? Run or fight? Run? Fight?
No…dang it. Fight.
“Send some men to the gun deck. We’ll see if these sailors want to chat.” I state it with confidence that I’m not actually feeling. But something about being followed lights a fire beneath me. It makes me angry. I want to at least see who my pursuer was. I want to prove that they made a mistake by testing me like this.
Half my men head below deck and I turn to Orlando. “You think they were hired to stop us?” I ask him, wondering if maybe these blood red sails were working for the Blue Diamond.
He shrugs. “I think that’s what it’s supposed to look like. But no pirate in their right mind can ignore the reward on Captain Blue’s head. They’re trying to scare us, Captain. Trying to shake us off so they can capture the Blue Diamond for themselves,” he guesses.
It makes too much sense for him to be wrong.
“So a fight it is,” I decide, once and for all.
* * *
The clouds roll in again. They caught up to us, threatening to spill a downpour upon my crew.
It doesn’t take long for us to make it close enough to the oncoming ship that I can make out faces in my spyglass. They are most certainly pirates, though some of them dress in full black like they are of a specific breed I’m unfamiliar with. I keep my jaw set, determined not to let my ignorance worry me.
“Just give the order,” Orlando says from beside me and I know the guns are ready. But I don’t give the order because the oncoming ship hasn’t attacked us yet. I watch them closely, my gaze bouncing around the deck of their ship, trying to spot their plan, or their next move, or who they are. I don’t feel like I have enough information to engage in a full blown attack. But I want to beat them to it if they are planning the same fate for us.
Their ship comes right up alongside ours without them making a single move. I stare across the space between us, searching for their captain. It should be obvious, but it isn’t. I can’t tell one pirate’s rank over another’s. Not a single one of them is wearing a hat.
“You think they’re military?” Orlando asks quietly. He is searching for their captain too, and like me, he fails to identify the right pirate.
“No,” I shake my head. No patriotic navy boat would look like this, or act like this.
My eyes wander over each of them now that I can see their faces and fall on one in particular. This young man looks at me from beneath dark eyelashes with a subtle smirk on his face like he knows something I don’t.
“Found him,” I whisper to Orlando. I think maybe the Captain’s tactic to blend into his crew is intentional, until he speaks. Then I think that maybe it’s just a coincidence.
“Good day fair Captain. I trust you’re enjoying this weather?” he calls across, locking onto my gaze and forcing me to drop my spyglass.
I try to take in his features, to study his stance. Dang, he’s good-looking. Tall, dark and handsome. That’s going to be a bonus distraction I didn’t anticipate.
“You want to talk about the weather?” I inquire. His petty subjects astound me.
“Actually I came to take your ship. Don’t take it personally,” he says, and before I can react, a dozen hooks are flying in my direction. Orlando’s hands pull me to the ground seconds before I could get knocked out by one, and I roll over twice to get out of the fire-zone. I jump to my feet.
“Fire!” I yell over the ship. There is a rumbling of small explosions that come from below, shaking the deck beneath my boots. I see at least two holes get blown in the side of the ship with the red sails. I whirl around to find what became of Orlando and my gut wrenches at the sight of him getting knocked over and restrained by three enemy pirates. I don’t know how they boarded my ship so fast. It had taken them seconds. Long fingers coil around my arm and I spin and twist to break the attackers grasp. I fumble out my sword as I turn to face the pirate and raise to block a fast swing that was headed in my direction. Past my adversary I realize that my entire ship is engaged in a heated battle. It dawns on me, at the exact same time that rain starts hitting my face. The storm has caught us. How wonderful.
I duck and swing, aiming for the kneecaps of the burly man who came to take me down. I need to go save Orlando without this man following me. My sword makes contact and I’m out of there faster than he can realize what happened. I feel a flutter in my stomach as I run, but I can’t decide if it’s a queasy sick feeling that’s going to make me barf or if it’s my adrenaline starting to stir, making me stronger. I hope it’s the latter.
I jump over a fallen man and nearly wipe out when I land because of the rain that has by now soaked the deck of my ship. I hear more explosions. A crackle of thunder erupts in the distance and I come sliding to a lurching halt as the dark barrel of a silver gun meets my forehead. My chest is pounding, making my breaths heavy. A gun. I look past it to the holder and find the Captain of the red sails that must have jumped ship at some point during the chaos. My eyes dart over to Orlando who is being held steady by two large men I would never want to fight. Then I look back at the Captain, the dark haired stud who holds me hostage at gunpoint. It’s too bad I’m going to have to beat him up in front of his crew. I’m waiting for my chance when he speaks,
“My name is Captain Philip. You and your crew are now my prisoners.”
But even as he says the words, the ear-piercing whale of something horrific fills the air. It’s so loud I almost throw my hands over my ears. A dark chill crawls up my spine like a spider running for its life and I look back towards the Dragon’s Throat canal where thick eerie smoke is lifting from the cliffs. Whatever dark bone crushing monster is living in that canal just got hungry. And now it knows we’re here.
Even Captain Philip isn’t smiling anymore.
End of Part I.
Here is a picture of my afternoon for your reference: