The Fine Art of Battle: Part Three
"KENTARI!" A loud yell issued forth from the captain's quarters. I leapt up from my game of Kou-Jong, as quickly as I could. As I ran to the Captain's Cabin, I saw Linae roll her eyes and start to pick up her game pieces. I quickly put my mind on the ensuing conversation with the unhappy sounding Captain. I stepped into his darkened cabin, carefully closing the door behind me.
"Yes sir?" I said, carefully lowering my eyes to look the picture of humility. The Captain seemed mollified if we at least LOOKED sorry.
"I hear you and First Mate Tuan got a little... bored today."
"B-bored, sir?" I had thought he wouldn't catch on nearly so quickly.
"Yes, Kentari. Would you like to make any comments in your defense before I commence with punishment?"
"Punishment?" I looked up, confused, "Sir, if you mean the joke we played on Hoban..."
"Joke?" the Captain asked, unable to keep the twinkle out of his eyes. "The best practical joke I've EVER been privy to my boy!" He let out a laugh that I could tell he'd been holding in for some time.
I chuckled weakly, relieved. I wondered where Tuan had gotten himself to and why he wasn't here on the receiving end of the Captain's humor.
Old Captain Usai just loved to act the part of the tough guy, but he really had quite the soft heart. As he laughed, I noticed his pouching belly and the wrinkles in the sun toughened blue skin. He scrunched up his big Kau eyes at me. "What are you looking at, son?"
"Kentari... you miss nothing." How he knew what I was thinking was always a mystery to me. "I know I am getting old."
"Old, sir? Why, you seem as fresh as a newly planted daisy."
The old Captain burst into guffaws again. "Oh, you are a funny one, lad. But, I have something somewhat serious to discuss with you."
I perked up. Usually Tuan was the recipient of any news, and I had the distinct feeling I was the first to receive this particular article of news.
"Kentari, I am going to retire."
My jaw dropped. I'd been serving under Captain Usai for five wonderful years. To hear that he was going to leave us, it was a shock.
"But that is not the big news," he continued. "I'll need a replacement."
My eyes widened and my heart raced. "Certainly not me!"
"No, no, Kentari. You are much too valuable as the weaponsmaster. And I know the new Captain will be much in need of your advice and friendship."
"New Captain?" I asked.
"Well, the ship can't run with ghosts, m'boy!"
"Tuan, of course. Such a steady lad, a good head on his shoulders."
I am sure there are all manner of comical expressions to describe my shock. My eyes popped out of my head, or my jaw hit the floor would be fitting, although neither is true. However, the Captain seemed to sense my shock.
"M'boy, what did you think? The First Mate often becomes Captain. And I can't think of a better one than Tuan. Aye, he is faithful and steady, fair and level-headed."
"Why tell me, Sir? Why not tell Tuan first?"
"Aye, you are a sharp one. You see, we all have some shortcomings, but his is one I truly worry about. He never asks for help."
I chuckled. "That is very true. I can think of a number of times that had I not stepped in, there would have been disaster!"
"Aye. So, this is what I charge you with. To help whenever he is in need. Of course, I will be helping him pick a first mate... I'm sorry, lad, but I don't think it will be you. You are to valuable where you are."
"Avert!" I replied, laughing. "I wouldn't want that job! But yes, I will be there to lend aid to Tuan whenever he needs it. Whether or not he wants it."
The Captain nodded seriously. "That will be good, lad. Now, if you will send Tuan in." I started to walk out, and as I closed the door the Captain admonished, "And don't let Tuan know... this is between you and me." I turned and nodded, saluting.
I smiled to myself, running off to find Tuan. He was right where I thought, talking over the best courses to take for our next journey with Shumi. "Tuan, the Captain has asked for you."
"I'll be there in a moment," Tuan said, frowning at the maps covering the tables.
"Tuan, I think that this is something that can not wait. I have strict orders to have you come to the Captain's cabin."
"His cabin?" Tuan's eyes widened in surprise. He knew that it must be big news indeed, to be delivered in private. Especially with a day to port. Tuan hurried off, and Shumi looked after him with a bemused expression.
"So, the old man is finally going to retire, isn't he?" Shumi turned towards me. He'd started out as a cabin boy, but had soon been promoted to navigator. No one knew how, but he knew everything that went on in the ship. Not much slipped past his notice.
"Of course, you would know before the rest of us." I smiled at him. He was most certainly my bet for Tuan's First Mate. A Scorchio like that would make a Captain's life much easier.
Hoban snorted behind us. He said, loudly and often, that Shumi could easily do the job of cabin boy while being navigator as well. At least, he had until the Captain had reminded him that then there would be no job for him. Hoban liked to mutter that he was only waiting for the promotion he so richly deserved.
Shumi shrugged and went back to his maps. I gave Hoban a look, and made my way to my weapons room. Tuan would know to look for me there, this was my time for weapons upkeep.
We didn't generally need to use the weapons. But then, the ship wasn't used for war. Ours was a peaceful existence, selling our wares at different ports around Neopia. There was no food more exotic than Orrin's, and no medicines that worked better than Doctor Sinseh's. And my weapons were hailed as some of the best ever seen.
But, we had to sail. Shenkuu had shut down her borders to trade long ago. Few people really knew anything about Shenkuu. In some places, people only thought it was a myth. My village had been near enough that we knew of it. And anyone was welcome there. They were just secretive. They wanted to keep their land pure, and unchanging. I personally thought that it would be better to accept change, but maybe I was a little biased.
As I began to clean the blades, I came back to the question I'd never gotten an answer to. How had Lania known about Tuan? Who had she met in Shenkuu? I took out a faded letter from my pocket. It was written in curling, feminine script. "Dearest Brother," I read it again, "I have long been prepared for your leaving the village. Blepheros is just a big bully, and sooner or later you two will clash. You don't think it, but you are brave. And if you have this, you're brave enough to set out for Shenkuu with little but your sister's vague instructions... and all her love. One day, I know you will do something amazing, Kentari. Always believe in yourself. I do. Your Sister, Lania." She'd snuck it into a tiny pocket in the bag she'd given me. The bag was long since sold for food, but the letter was with me at all times.
"KENTARI!" Tuan yelled, interrupting my reverie. "I'm the new captain!!!!!"
Way to keep it quiet until the captain can tell everyone, I thought wryly. Still, I could tell Tuan was wildly excited.
"Are you?" I said, feigning surprise. "I figured the Captain would step down soon."
"Kentari, old mate, you don't understand. I AM to be the new Captain!" He struck a pose... the kind Allance had been used to striking at least three times a day. Tuan had so much in common with my brother, although much more in touch with his emotions. It was funny that my brother and I had never gotten along, but Tuan and I were inseparable.
"Ah, I was doing it again?" Tuan knew all of my past, as I knew his.
"Yes, well, it's endearing," I said, teasingly. He chucked a blanket at my head and I ducked, laughing. "But, I am VERY happy to hear you made Captain. It's not as if it's a surprise."
"I suppose, me being First Mate and all."
"No, because you are you Tuan. You'll make a very good Captain."
"Speaking of..." Tuan eyed the floor guiltily.
"If you are about to state some noble thing about your best friend deserving to be First Mate, but me not being suited for it, save it. We all know that I am not suited for it. I, of all people, would be the first to admit when something is not my strength."
By Tuan's relieved look, I knew that this was precisely what he'd been about to say. "Ah, you know me better than I know myself, Kentari. Who would you then suggest?"
"Shumi, of course. He is First Mate material through and through. In fact, if you hadn't already filled the position, I'm sure he'd have been promoted to that by now."
"Shumi! Of course! Yes, Shumi would be perfect. But then, who will become our navigator?"
"Well, as reluctant as I am to admit it, I've seen Hoban and Shumi discussing charts and maps... he's good. He would do well."
"That old sour puss? Well, I suppose..." He stopped himself. "A captain can't really go around calling the crew sour puss and such, can he?"
"Not when anyone is around to hear." I said, smiling proudly. Tuan may be headstrong, stubborn, and over excitable, but he was sharp.
A smile spread over his face. "Isn't Hoban always saying that the navigator should be able to be the cabin boy as well?"
"Why, yes Tuan, I believe so."
"Then, we shall have to make sure he has a chance to prove that, shan't we?"
I laughed. Tuan may be Captain now, but that didn't make him any less Tuan!
To be continued...