Pirates of Shenkuu: Part Two
"Hey, Aisheng," my father greets me. He's currently docking the ship at a tiny two-boat harbor near a small restaurant. Two Myncis who apparently work at the place jump onward, grabbing the crates my father hands them.
"Hey, Dad," I say softly. It's not very far from here to Dandan's Dishes; I didn't even have to fly. I step off the wooden bridge connecting the two "islands" and edge toward my father's boat.
"That's the last of 'em," my father says, nodding to the Myncis. Unlike me, my father has bright green scales, the color of a bamboo shoot in the spring. I've inherited my mother's color of a blue dishtowel that's been washed one too many times--pale and washed-out.
"Only one more shipment to make today," he says cheerfully, stepping back onboard. "I did most of them earlier. The sun wasn't even up when I headed out." I follow him onto the boat as he casts off. He pumps the sails a few times to give us altitude and then heads straight for the wheel, steering us around a clump of rocks jutting from a cliff face.
"Where's it to?" I ask. There's hardly enough room on the trading ship for both of us; most of the space is taken up by supplies. Only a few boxes remain, all marked "Wood" or "Rope".
"Hangyun's Ships," my father says. "He ordered some supplies from the warehouse a week back, and they've just got the shipment ready for me to give to him. He'll be paying big; he ordered pretty high-end quality wood for a ship for the imperial fleet." As a trader, my father takes a portion of the payments for his cutomers' shipments. Usually he charges an additonal fee if he has to go farther, or past a known pirate hangout.
"I'll help you with the loading," I say at once. Hangyun's has always been one of my favorite shops to go to; I love looking at the ships and sails and imagining myself in them. Of course, his prices are way too high for me or my father. Hangyun deals in fighting ships, equipped with cannons and huge, sturdy bows, perfect for fighting and withstanding long trips and heavy winds. The best merchants buy from him; most of the ships around here are too cheap or too small to survive a trip around the world.
The journey to Hangyun's doesn't take long. Before I know it Dad's steering us into his expansive harbor. He pulls us into an empty spot, where we're dwarfed in comparison to the long-range merchant ships docked here. I eye them enviously, as Dad nudges me. Hangyun's come out to greet us.
"Ah, Feiling, just the pet I wanted to see," Hangyun calls out jovially, striding confidentally down the well-polished dock to meet us. The Red Skeith is dressed in a nobleman's fine silks and sashes, waving a painted wooden fan as daintily as a ladyn in the emperor's court. Of course, he must be boiling under the layers of expensive fabric he's wearing, and the day's starting out to be rather hot for Shenkuu.
"Morning, Hangyun," my father calls, smiling and waving at one of his best customers. I lounge against the side of one of the merchant ships, trying to catch my father's eye.
"And this must be your son--Shengai, is it?" Hangyun asks, flashing a broad white grin at me. I smile back warily, trying not to focus on his rows of sharp teeth.
"Aisheng," my father corrects him, careful to keep his voice mild and calm. He doesn't want to offend one of the richest pets in Shenkuu.
"Right, Shaieng. Well, I'm sure the young lad would like to run along while we talk business, how does that sound?" the Skeith booms, adjusting his sash with one hand.
I nod quickly, bobbing my head like a broken children's toy. "Yes, please, I'd like that very much, sir."
"Excellent. I'll have some of my workers help you unload, Feiling," Hangyun shouts, his voice fading into the distance as I scamper away. I turn the corner of the building, heading toward the back where the ships are kept on display.
A crowd of wealthy-looking pets crowds around the for-sale harbor, ooh-ing and ah-ing and chattering excitedly to one another. I weave in and out among the enormous throng and end up near an enormous black-lacquered ship with impressive royal blue sails and enormous masts. I edge along the deck, eyeing the many ships and sighing quietly to myself whenever I see a particularly good one.
Once I've reached the end of the line, I notice a door I've never seen before, in the side of the main building. A tall Ogrin exits it, wearing an bright red apron emblazoned with black cursive spelling out "Hangyun's Ships". I duck past the worker and slip through the door, curious as to what lies inside.
It's an enormous workshop, one end open to the mists and skies of Shenkuu. Pets of every species and color crowd about, all wearing the red aprons of Hangyun. Some hammer at pieces of wood, some measure and cut rope, and some mix enormous vats of red, blue, and black paint. I stare at them in awe. If only I could work here! That would be the second best thing to being a pirate!
Near the corner of the workshop is an area marked "Scraps". Piles of rotted wood, buckets of defective paint, and sails slashed and worn beyond repair lie on an enormous pile beside a huge furnace. The fire is out for now, but I have a feeling that later on today the entire pile will be consigned to the flames. The scrap pile is bigger than I am; it stretches up almost to the ceiling and takes up a good portion of space on the floor. I circle it in awe, staring.
One thing near the edge of the pile catches my eye. It's a ship--bigger than my father's, but not by much. The wood is scuffed and rotted in many places, and the paint is peeled so much that it's hard to tell what color it originally was. In one section of the flooring an entire panel has rotted away, leaving a gaping hole. Most of the sails are gone; what few remain are ragged and tattered beyond repair. The hammock is shredded to pieces, the wheel is missing several spokes, and the Crokabek's nest is so rotted that only a few pieces remain.
I turn to see my father and Hangyun striding toward me. My father holds a large bag of NPs in one hand. "Shaing!" Hangyun calls cheerfully. "What're you doing?"
I gesture to the broken ship. "This ship. What happened to it?"
Hangyun wrinkles his nose. "Oh, that. One of our employees took it out for a test flight before it was to be sold and was caught in a storm. It's too tiny to be much use in high winds. Luckily the worker was a Shoyru, and was able to fly away just as the ship impaled itself on a spike of rock. We salvaged the ship later, took off its usable sales, and put it out in our 'poor pets' section, as we call it. No one bought it, so eventually we took it out here to be burned."
I look back at the ragged-looking ship. "So. . .if it's going to be burned anyway, that means it's free, right?"
For a minute the two older pets look at me, not understanding. My father gets it first.
"No, Aisheng," he says sternly. "It's not safe to fly in that thing."
Hangyun still hasn't caught on. "Well, it's not like anyone would want to buy it," he chuckles. "We lowered the price to 5,000 NP--can you imagine that? 5,000!--but still no one bought it."
"I'll take it," I say quickly, before my father can stop me. "I'll even give you some money for it, if you want."
Hangyun laughs. "That old thing? Whatever would you want it for? Go ahead and take it. Free of charge."
"Aisheng!" my father protests. "How are we going to take it home? What sales it has are torn beyond repair."
I turn to Hangyun. "Are you selling any sales?"
He nods, trying to hide a smile. "You'd never be able to fly this thing out of Shenkuu--not far, anyway. What are you planning to do with it?"
I think about it for a moment. "Fight pirates," I say finally. "Turn them in for rewards, and then when I have enough money, buy a ship that can fly out of Shenkuu. I'll leave. Travel the world."
"All right, then," Hangyun chuckles. "It's yours. The cheapest set of sails we've got can be yours for 800 NP."
"800!" my father exclaims. "Nothing that cheap could support you, surely!"
"Sure it could, Feiling," Hangyun says. "Sure, they wouldn't be very good--at all--but a ship this small wouldn't need very big sails, or a full set for that matter. Plus, no one wants our cheapest set, so we've kept lowering the price."
"Why don't they want it?" Unconciously, I've found myself drawn to the broken-down ship. I brush against it and reach up, gripping the side.
"They're bright purple," Hangyun explains.
"Oh." A moment later, I can see exactly what he means by 'bright'. My eyes nearly start to water, and I turn my head away. "How much is your next cheapest set?"
"6,000 NP," the worker showing us the sails says gruffly. I sigh. I've got barely 4,000. I reach into my pocket and pull out that much, handing it to Hangyun. "What about the holes? They'll need to be repaired."
"Tell you what. . ." Hangyun scratches his chin thoughfully. "For a very small price, we'll patch up all the holes--with our cheapest wood, of course--and replace the sails for you. How does that sound?"
"Great. How much will it cost?" I hurriedly count my remaining neopoints. 2,006 exactly.
"4,000 NP," Hangyun says lazily, examining his claws. I swallow.
"He hasn't got that much," Feiling says, glancing at my bag.
I look down at the ground. "I. . .I don't. I guess. . .I'll just have to. . ." Do what, exactly? I have no idea how to put on a set of sails, or how to repair a ship.
Feiling looks down at me and sighs. "But I do," he mutters. My face lights up, and he rolls his eyes. "Don't make me regret this," the big Scorchio says, handing over the appropriate ammount of NPs to Hangyun.
"Thanks, Dad," I say quietly as three workers move quickly to the little boat, carrying tools and planks of wood.
"Don't mention it," he mutters, turning his back. "It'll probably break down soon, anyway."
I, however, do not share in his pessimism. I jog around the ship as the employees work, already imagining gripping the wheel and flying, at last, on a ship I can call my own.
To be continued...