Pirate Lady: Part One
Author's Note: This is the (long in progress) sequel to Pirate Curse. It is recommended you read that one first, as this will make more sense. Enjoy!
“Any news?” the shadow Grarrl growled, looking up from his mug. His scarred face, many earrings, and expensive-but-ruined clothes were enough to set anyone on edge, if the spiraling tattoo up his bare arm did not. The thin, nervous Shoyru in tattered cut-off britches and bare feet shook his head, bobbing up and down in dismay.
“N-no, Sir, none at all,” he babbled. Behind the Grarrl, a blue Jetsam, dressed far more immaculately than the Grarrl, looked on with a sort of quiet interest, his eyes, like dull marbles, flitting around the room.
“Well, we shall find the wretch soon enough,” the Grarrl remarked darkly. He reached up to stroke his elaborately waxed moustache. “She’ll not git away with it by my word, she won’t. No-one bests Captain Black Joe.”
“N-no, Sir,” the Shoyru agreed, glancing nervously around the inn. It was sparsely occupied; only those of a decidedly shady nature ventured here after dark. The Jetsam caught his glance, and smiled without humour.
“Pirate she may call ‘ersel’, but that don’ make ‘er real pirate.” The Grarrl stared moodily down at the scarred surface of his table; generations of bored visitors had carved a great deal of not-so-nice things into the soft wood. He seemed not to notice the Shoyru’s unhappiness. “Real pirates have greed. That girl’s too blasted nice t’ be pirate. Mark my words, boy, we’ll git ‘er someday.”
“Indeed, I will,” the Jetsam said, so softly neither the Grarrl, who was taking a heavy drink from his mug, nor the Shoyru, who was wishing fervently that he had never disobeyed his mum and agreed to run an errand for this man, heard.
“Ship sighted, Cap’n.” The trench-coated brown Ogrin touched his brow respectfully in a half-salute, a gesture left over from his days in the navy. He blinked in the bright light of the foredeck, squinting at the small blue Lupess standing at the rail.
“Yes, I see it.” The Lupess stood motionless, her slender paws resting gently on the rail, her chestnut curls blowing in the wind. Beneath her, the white foam of the vessel’s wake spread far out into the blue-green waters of the ocean, the waters that stretched out until they met the sky in an almost invisible border of pale blue. The approaching ship was a speck on the horizon; one slip of the brush in the perfect painting.
“Orders, Cap’n?” The Ogrin shifted uneasily, looking sideways at his young captain. The Lupess blinked, and turned slightly. Head-on, she was quite pretty, with narrow, straight features framed with curling gold-brown hair. She wore britches tucked into boots, with a lacy white shirt, and a long coat, the lace of her shirt sleeves peeking out past the cuffs. In one of her paws a gold spyglass was loosely clasped.
“The usual, Mr. Brown. Raise the flag, man the posts, one shot across the bow...” the Lupess said vaguely, waving one paw dismissively. There were other things on her mind at the moment; she didn’t wish to be disturbed by such trivial matters.
“Cap’n!” The Ogrin looked positively alarmed now. “Cap’n, it’s a ship o’ the royal navy! King Hagan’s Royal Navy! It be the laird’s ‘imself!”
The words seemed to give the Lupess captain a verbal slap. She blinked, then yanked the spyglass up to her eye.
“By Fyora, you’re right,” she breathed. The spyglass came to her side sharply, and she turned, a wicked grin spreading across her face.
“Just what I’ve been waiting for.” She turned on her heel and made for the helm so fast Mr. Brown had to run to keep up. She was already caressing the wheel spokes by the time the Ogrin, sighing and shaking his head at the Lupess’ sudden changes of mood, reached it.
“All hands on deck!” she screeched as soon as the First Mate joined her. There was a general cacophony of noises as the crew, most of whom had simply been lying about, scrambled to do her bidding. The Lupess narrowed her eyes pensively, staring at the ship on the horizon, which was rapidly gaining on them.
“Get everyone into the boats,” she said sharply, turning back to Mr. Brown. The Ogrin blinked.
“Surely not, Cap’n? You don’ actually mean to...?”
“Yes, indeed I do. I think it’s time I asked a few questions,” the Lupess answered, turning back to the wheel. “They’ve certainly been chasing us long enough.”
“Well, I fer one ‘m not loyalty-bound; that there contract’s just about up,” Mr. Brown said conversationally, watching the captain out of the corner of his eye. The edge of the Lupess’ mouth twitched slightly, and Mr. Brown closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them it was to roar, “Lower the boats, everyone in! Abandon ship, Cap’n says, get to it, ye great lumps!”
“‘Great lumps’?” The Lupess’ eyes sparkled with amusement. “Is that what they say in the navy, Mr. Brown?”
“Nay, Cap’n, it’s one o’ me own,” Mr. Brown answered, his face flushing slightly. The Lupess nodded slightly.
“I like it.” She turned her full attention back to the ship on the horizon, squinting through her spyglass at it. The deck swayed beneath her as the wind picked up slightly. The Lupess dropped her spyglass and lifted her eyes upward, to the furled sails. A yellow Shoyru was swinging down neatly from the maintop. The moment his bare feet touched deck, he was off at a sprint to help the crowd lowering the Jolly boat. The Lupess watched them with a slight pang of longing. She really shouldn’t make the crew leave the ship. The proper thing to do would be to take the Jolly boat herself and row out to the ship. But she wasn’t going to compensate her pride, no-matter how strong her curiosity. Captain Tamzin Herner was not going to sink that low. Yet.
“Get into the boat, will you?” The Lupess looked up, her eyes locking with those of her First Mate. Despite his constant callous bragging over the months of how free he was, of how he could leave any time he liked, she knew he was going to stand by her side to the very end.
“I think I ‘member reading, in that contract, something ‘bout Standing By My Captain Until The Very End,” Mr. Brown said slowly, pronouncing ‘captain’ very carefully and distinctly. He stuck his paws in his pockets, adopting a nonchalant pose. “I did sign me name, with me very own pen, right next t’ ye’s, Tamzin. Tha’ makes it bindin’.” He looked inquiringly at the Lupess, who let out a sigh of exasperation. This was the last thing she needed: thrice-cursed loyalty, the sort that would bring her friends down with her.
“You know there was no such line; I won’t hear of it,” she said stubbornly. To prove her point, she turned her back firmly on her First Mate, clutching the spokes of the wheel with trembling paws. The ship was getting closer, close enough for Tamzin to see with her bare eyes the figurehead, a beautifully carved book and sword, crossed. Her pirate-trained eyes measured it up unconsciously, seeing how easy of a prize it would be. And it would be very easy; King Hagan, more interested in books than wars, had the laziest navy the Lupess had ever seen. Add to it his ships were built for gunpower, not speed. It was a fully-loaded Man-O’-War; something that heavy and clumsy would never catch her sleek, fast ship, built for chasing. Just think how many poor towns it would feed, how many over-taxed peasants would be able to keep their children from working...
“There’s something ye’ve not yet learned, at yer age,” Mr. Brown said, very quietly, startling Tamzin out of her thoughts. The pirate captain kept her gaze trained straight ahead, nonetheless, showing no sign that she was aware anyone was speaking.
“Loyalty can’t be bought or sold,” the Ogrin continued, still very quietly. “It has t’ be made. Tha’ migh’ take more n’ someone bargains fer. But once ‘s made, i’ stays for good. Ye cannot break it, Tamzin, anymore ‘n I can. I’ll stand with ye ‘til the end, like a true friend.”
“It’s not the end,” Tamzin replied, tears filling her eyes. Emotion choked her throat as the full meaning of Mr. Brown’s words swept over her. “I promise. It’s just for curiosity’s sake. Just for a while. A bit. I want to try some things out. I don’t want to become old yet.” She turned her head slightly to meet the Ogrin’s eyes.
“I ken this i’in’t the end,” Mr. Brown concurred, blinking slowly. “But one day the end will be a comin’, an’ I’ll be there, by yer side.”
“By your side.” Tamzin repeated the words softly. There was a splash as the last boat hit the water. The crew, trained to follow their captain’s orders to the letter, no-matter how strange, were doing as she told them, and abandoning ship. Their loyalty to their captain was unwavering, even when it meant going against their wishes. Tamzin turned abruptly to her First Mate.
“Go, now,” she said firmly, pushing back the tears that threatened. “One day, you will be there, but today is not the day.” She grinned wryly. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back—”
“When yer curiosity’s well an’ truly sated,” Mr. Brown finished for her. The Ogrin shook his head with a slight smile. “Yer an awful lot like me daughter, Miss Tamzin. Fare thee well, an’ try not t’ give anyone too hard o’ a time.”
Tamzin smiled. “I will,” she promised. Mr. Brown shrugged.
“Ye know where t’ find me,” he said. He kissed her quickly on the cheek, then turned and swept along the deck. Tamzin absentmindedly lifted a paw to the place he had touched, watching as he climbed into the boat, then as they pulled away, tugging hard at the oars, to join to rest of the crew, already rowing south, to land. To a new captain, a new ship, most probably. They were pirates, through-and-through. Unusual pirates, yes, but pirates nonetheless. Nothing was going to change that.
“Well,” Tamzin said softly, turning back to the wheel, “it’s just you and me, now. Me and my ship; the way things are supposed to be.” A faint smile graced her features as she turned the Destiny straight ahead, humming softly as the end to her curiosity approached.
Lady Arianwen le Faìrve, knight of Brightvale, King’s Champion, Duchess of Southlands, and numerous other small titles, sagged against the balcony of a third-storey apartment on the left wing of Brightvale Castle. The light breeze threw the scent of roses from the garden below up to Ari’s nose, sweetly perfumed. The tall white Gelertess closed her eyes with a sigh, letting her arms rest on the wrought-iron railing of the balcony. She was a pretty sight, in a rose-coloured tunic and britches, her dark hair loose, though she was exhausted. Today had been trying. As if her normal duties as knight, duchess, and King’s Champion weren’t enough, there was a dance planned for next week; a dance everyone even remotely important in all of Brightvale would be expected to attend. Ari hated dances almost as much as she hated feasts. The Gelertess was as far removed from the social aspect of politics as her job of King’s Champion allowed her to be, which was, regretfully, not very.
The timid voice made Ari’s eyes snap open. The Gelertess turned to see a small blue Shoyru maid standing in the entrance to the balcony, looking frightened. She bobbed a small curtsey, lifting her starched white dress at the hem, when she saw Ari looking.
“Yes? What is it?” Ari snapped, more harshly than she had intended, perhaps due to the fact that the girl had somehow contrived to pick Ari’s least favourite title out of a selection of six. The Shoyru’s sapphire eyes widened, and she stammered, “H-h-h-his majesty... w-wishes you in the right-wing dungeons at once, Your Grace.” She bobbed another curtsey, looking at Ari with terror, as though afraid the Gelertess would eat her.
Ari sighed and ran a hand through her black hair. “I shall come immediately,” she informed the maid tiredly, already sorry for her sharp words. “And I prefer ‘My Lady’, if you would. ‘Your Grace’ gets tiring.”
“Y-y-yes, My Lady.” The Shoyru maid gave a frightened nod and another curtsey before scurrying away. Ari took a deep breath, and let it out again, turning her head from side-to-side in an effort to get the cricks from her neck.
Right-wing dungeons meant only one thing: the king had a new prisoner he wished Ari to tend to. As King’s Champion, Ari should have mostly been merely a figurehead, a useless layabout who attended balls and flaunted her rank. The only real job she was expected to do was to rise to the occasion should the king’s honour be compromised.
But Ari was not one to play by the rules. She had insisted she have the regular duties of a knight, as well as a few prized jobs she jealously guarded. Seeing to any new prisoner was one of them. Not that Ari liked seeing the prisoners, on the whole she felt rather sick about the thing, but the Gelertess was determined to ensure none of the more brutal knights got their hands on an innocent child, convicted only of plucking a blossom from the king’s flowerbeds.
With another deep breath, Ari smoothed down her tunic, and ruefully exited the balcony, leaving behind her peace and quiet behind as she set off along the palace corridor.
Ari made her way swiftly through the palace, dodging knights, servants, and courtiers alike. Most recognized her on sight; they made every effort to get out of her way, with respectful bows and curtseys as the tall white Gelertess in simple garb and grim expression shouldered her way through the crowd. In her years at the palace, Ari had gained a sort of begrudging respect as the first female King’s Champion. At first she had been treated with derision, after coming to Brightvale from Meridell to take advantage of the new rule King Hagan had put in place: that any girl of nobility could become a knight in his kingdom, the same as any boy. Ari, always far too strong and tall for the demure lady expected of her, had jumped at the chance to put her mettle to the test. Her mother, raising seven children single-handedly on a pitiful allowance, had gladly seized on a future for at least one of her daughters. Although her family was poor since Ari’s father died, they were still of noble blood, and proud of it. Ari remembered her lovely, fine-bred brown Gelertess mother holding up her head high even after they had dismissed all but two of the servants and were reduced to living in a small country mansion. Ari had taken after her mother in more ways than she knew. After a short period of torture for all concerned, the nobility of Brightvale had learned to respect Arianwen le Faìrve.
Ari took the dungeon stairs two-at-a-time, her steel boot heels clicking on the stone. She descended into the cool, dark depths, and paused, her eyes slowly adjusting to the lack of light. The only source of luminance here came from a few high windows on the wall, crisscrossed with metal bars and far too small to admit any real light. Or warmth. The Gelertess knight shivered in her thin clothes, suited to the comfortable warmth of the palace in late summertime.
A dull thumping interrupted Ari’s blinking, and the knight stiffened as a guard rounded the corner. It was a huge red Grarrl, his green-and-gold uniform stretched too tight, his traditional axe looking like a toy in his meaty fists. He was no guard Ari had ever seen before, and she knew all of them by sight, but then they were always looking for more. Guarding criminals in a dank, underground prison was not a desirable job.
“Lady Arianwen,” the Grarrl greeted her, his voice a low rumble. He bent into an awkward bow, his forehead wrinkling as he studied her face.
“I have come on King Hagan’s orders,” Ari answered icily. The guard nodded hastily.
“Yes, Your Grace, the new prisoner,” he said. Obviously he had not heard of Ari’s dislike for that particular title. Why, oh, why, do they always have to pick that one? Ari thought despairingly.
The Grarrl reached for the belt about his waist, dozens of keys jingling as his claws fumbled among them. “The pirate has been captured.”
“The pirate?” Ari stood up straighter, her heart beating fast, forgetting her Duchess Lament. They had been trying to catch the wretched thing for months. This was truly good news.
“Aye, Your Grace,” the guard confirmed, nodding. “If Your Grace would just follow me...” He turned at Ari’s nod, and led the way past rows of small, empty cells, their doors swinging loosely on their hinges.
“Here you are, Your Grace,” the Grarrl mumbled, stopping abruptly. There was a brown Zafara standing directly in front of the cell they had paused at, and Ari noticed him first. His dark hair was pulled back into a short ponytail at the nape of his neck, and he wore simple light armour, but he carried himself with a noticeably kingly air. He turned at the sound of approaching footsteps, and, upon seeing Ari, broke into a smile that lit up his deep blue eyes.
“My radiantly beautiful, gruslen-fierce Queen of the World,” he greeted, opening his arms wide. Ari, for the first time that morning, allowed herself a small smile.
“Errol, it is so good to see you again,” she said, throwing her arms around her knight friend. He was one of the things that made palace life bearable, and he had been one of the knights assigned to help capture the pirate. It had been a long time since Ari had seen him. Too long.
“That makes one of us,” a disgusted, yet charmingly young voice broke in. Ari broke away from Errol to see a young blue Lupess sprawled on the floor of the cell in front of her. The girl wore torn britches under a ripped coat, both in unfavourable condition. It looked as though someone had badly savaged the hat she was now straightening out with a look of deep disgust. She looked up and gave Ari a pale smile, then went back to her hat. Ari took in the torn, tattered clothes, the matted hair, the fresh, purpling bruise along one cheekbone. The lady knight let out an exclamation that made Errol flinch.
“How could you?!” Ari glared at her friend accusingly. The brown Zafara winced, looking pained.
“...Put up a fight... dangerous criminal...” he muttered, his blue eyes sliding sideways in an effort not to meet Ari’s smouldering ones.
“Dangerous criminal my sword!” she burst out, one paw straying to the hilt of the mentioned object, hanging by her side.
“They were fair in their treatment,” the Lupess put in gently. She was looking straight at Ari, her light green eyes, rimmed thickly with dark kohl, serious. She gently punched out a last bend in the hat and returned it to her head, placing it carefully on the mop of brown curls.
“A gift,” she said by way of explanation, giving Ari a wry smile. “Its former owner would undoubtedly be in tears at its dreadful misuse.” She shrugged as if to let Ari know she could care less.
“And as for your friend, as I said, it was only fair. I resisted capture.” She raised thin shoulders along with a pair of dark eyebrows, watching them closely. Ari had to look away after a second; the Lupess’ oddly clear green-glass eyes, flecked so perfectly with pure gold it looked as though a painter had done them with utmost precision, were unnerving. The thick black makeup that lined them made them stand out more than was natural, reminding Ari faintly of emissaries from the Lost Desert, with their odd, black-rimmed eyes. It was a desert custom to do so, something about the sun, if Ari remembered correctly.
In one fluid movement, Tamzin pulled herself to her feet and came up to the bars that separated her from the two knights.
“Your name, My Lady?” she asked politely.
“Er... Lady Arianwen le Faìrve, Knight of Brightvale,” Ari said, recovering quickly. With only a fraction of a second’s hesitation, she stuck her paw through the bars to shake the Lupess’. The so-called pirate had a surprisingly strong grip for one so small, but she relinquished Ari’s paw almost at once, as if afraid the knight might take offence.
“Captain Tamzin of the Destiny, owner of a few others,” Tamzin waved this away as though it weren’t anything. A slight smile graced the Lupess’ delicate features. Ari blinked.
“So it’s true, is it?” she said huskily, taken aback. “You’re really a pirate?” The pirates Ari had come to associate the name with, the ones in tales and rumours, were rough, evil men. This pretty, well-mannered girl could not possibly be a pirate.
Beside her, Errol made a noise. Ari ignored him.
Tamzin shrugged. “For all intents and purposes, yes. The literal term piracy, of course, differs quite a bit from that of ‘pirate’, but it is to be expected.”
“You do not lawfully sail these seas?” Ari asked shortly. Next to her, she felt Errol tense, and her hand strayed unconsciously to her sword hilt. The slim Gelertess shifted on the hard stone floor, trying to stay relaxed, yet feeling decidedly uneasy for some reason. Tamzin merely shrugged, cocking her head to one side and surveying the two knights without emotion.
“If the goods were taken illegally, stolen, is it yet more wrong to give back what was taken, in the process taking it from the original stealers?”
The sentence made Ari’s head hurt, and the knight’s fine eyebrows met together as she struggled to figure it out. Errol beat her to it.
“It is still stealing,” he said harshly. Tamzin raised one eyebrow, her gaze resting unsettlingly on the brown Zafara.
“Is it, then? I suppose it is to your way of thinking, but then, you are not me.” She raised and lowered her shoulders, a hint of a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. Her eyes met Ari’s, and the Gelertess had to step a pace back. They were unnerving in the way they seemed to see straight through her.
“If pirate I look to you, then pirate, to you, I am, and so to your king.” The blue Lupess’ tone indicated that the matter was closed, and yet it left Ari’s longing to ask more. The lady knight bit her tongue, and said shortly, “I am pleased to have made your acquaintance, Miss Tamzin; my fellow knight and I must return to our duties now, but I am sure we will do all we can to ensure King Hagan sees things... in the proper light.”
Tamzin gave just the barest hint of a nod, her tiny yet obviously very strong paws caressing the iron bars. Ari turned sharply on her heel, dragging Errol with her. The Zafara dug his heels in, but even in his metal hauberk with sword at his hip, he was no match for Ari’s training. He was hauled away, protesting under his breath, as the gears of Ari’s brain churned wildly.
For a moment after the two strange knights had left, Tamzin stayed at the bars of the cell door, staring at the empty pathway between the dungeon cells thoughtfully. There was a slight frown on the Lupess’ face. She absentmindedly rubbed a paw against her cheek, wincing at the tenderness of the bruises. She had not meant to put up such a fight, but it was in her nature. She could not let her honour and reputation go so easily. And many of the King’s Navy, as well as the King’s Guards, would be feeling the mark for quite a while.
After a second, Tamzin turned and bent swiftly to scoop up a piece of straw. She tested it, and then let it drop with a sigh of disgust. It took her another moment or two to find a bit that met her standards.
She inserted it carefully into the lock, and was rewarded with a soft click as the mechanisms turned. Tamzin stared at the opened door, swinging loosely on its hinges. They were stupid to have assumed she was helpless; it would be their undoing. A fearsome pirate, they described the young Lupess to everyone, and yet seeing her, they couldn’t help but treat her as a silly, helpless young girl. Tamzin would never have survived to hear stories of her own life exaggerated if she was unable to do something as simple as pick a lock with the materials at hand.
Now, however, she stared at the unlocked door, desperately tempted. She could easily slip by the guards, go up the stairs, sneak through the palace as just another maid, get a ride to the docks, commandeer a rowboat, pick up a crew and a nice little schooner at the next port, and be back in her old life in two days’ time.
The plan flashed before her eyes, and for a moment, she was sorely tempted. She stopped herself sharply. You wanted this, she thought, with a slight measure of shame, you went and got the poor Destiny captured so you could see what on Neopia was so important about your measly little self, and now you’re going to put it all to waste? With a sigh for her bitterly righteous conscience, Tamzin bade a regretful goodbye to the cheerful little schooner in her dreams, already sporting a lovely new black-and-gold Jolly Roger, and quietly took up her post against the cell’s back corner once more.
When the guard came to check on her a moment later, the hulking red Grarrl who held his axe like he’d never seen one before in his life, she was able to raise one eyebrow at him in the way she knew unsettled people so much, and was rewarded with a ‘harrumph’, and an embarrassed look that made her smile inwardly. Just a little longer to see what that knowledge-obsessed king wanted with a pirate girl, and then she could do whatever she pleased...
To be continued...
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