Concerning Smugglers: Part One
Cowritten with whitefriar
Dedicated to droplet. Thank you for the effort you must put in to make the Neopian Times great.
Kip peered carefully around the boulder. The sand crunched gently beneath his feet as he tried to squint through the darkness. The cave was damp and dingy, gently sloping down towards sea-level where a low mist threatened to invade the cavern's interior. Kip could just see the outline of a ship swaying side to side in the murky fog. The dull toll of the ship's bell rang out in the dark, it echoed solemnly throughout the cave. This was Smugglers' Cove; the famed caverns which housed the Smugglers of Krawk Island, and where they sold their illicit wares. It was rumoured that there were thousands of Dubloons worth of treasure hidden in the many nooks and crannies of the caves, but as of yet neither authorities or adventurers had managed to find them, despite numerous searches. The smugglers were very careful about their treasure.
The bleakness of the night was making Kip nervous, and he strained to anything over the noise of the bell. Sitting in the middle of the cave, surrounding a flickering fire, were the smugglers. Seven of them were situated there, warming their hands gently on the flames. They were talking amongst themselves, no doubt plotting their next escapade. Kip could hear snatches of words, a 'rigging' here and a 'cargo hold' there, but the vast majority of their conversation was lost to him. He crept further around the rock to edge closer to the smugglers, desperate to hear more. Crouching down and nudging himself just a little closer, he tried urgently not to make too much noise. Surely he wouldn't be heard from this distance anyway.
Sniffing the air Kip could smell the sea, rotten seaweed and moist sand. Another strange odour permeated his nostrils. Kip inhaled deeply trying to decipher it. A mixture of stale clothes and dry biscuits he decided. Kip found this strange. Perhaps the ocean breeze had picked up, carrying with it the stench of the crew he was trying so desperately to hear. But that couldn't be right. He was on the outskirts of the cave and if it was indeed the wind it ought to be sending his scent towards the pirates, not the other way around.
As this dawned on Kip a sense of dread swept through him like he had just been plunged deep into a tank of ice water. He felt his fins prickling along his back and stayed frozen as he saw a shadow spread over the ground in front of him. A rough hand grasped his shoulder and spun him around. Standing before him was a large Bruce, decked from head to toe in pirate attire, resplendent with hanging gold earrings and yellow teeth. A foul odour emanated from his mouth, far overpowering the smell of his clothes.
"Well, well, well," rasped the Pirate. "What 'ave we 'ere."
The pirate unsheathed his sword, flicking it to Kips neck in one swift movement. The sword looked fierce, with a long scratch down the side of the blade. It glimmered dangerously in darting light of the fire, with each flame illuminating the razor sharp edge. Kip gulped, and looked slowly down at the blade poking gently into his skin.
"You shoul'n be in 'ere mate," the pirate growled, "this 'ere cave is off limits. Wha' do ye think you be doing?"
"M- m-" Kip began to stutter and immediately he scalded himself. This was his big moment. This is where he had wanted to be for so long now. You never get a second chance for a first impression. Summoning up all the courage he could muster, he looked directly into the pirate's squinting eyes. "My name is Kip, and I'm here to join the Smugglers."
The pirate let out a loud bark of laughter which resonated around the cave. As it reached the ears of the other smugglers, their conversations abruptly stopped as they leapt to their feet, hands flashing to the hilt of their swords. The sand kicked up around them as they rushed to the boulder where Kip had previously been spying from.
"'Ere," hollered the first pirate, holding Kip by the scruff of his neck. "We go' ourselves a wannabe pirate!"
The resounding sound of laughter filled the cove. Kip felt his face flush with embarrassment, which was surprising considering the sword was still held level just below his chin. The other pirates circled him as the first thrust him away from the safety of the boulder. He found himself standing in the centre of the cove, a few yards away from the roaring flames. A gentle drip heralded a droplet of water, which fell from a stalactite high above him, soundlessly landing upon the Bruce's nose. With a swish, the blade was removed from Kip's neck and slotted effortlessly back from whence it came.
"So..." The first pirate leered menacingly, exposing a grin from Kip could count the number of rotten teeth this pirate had, although it would probably be easier to count the number of complete teeth.
"Ye wan' to be a pira'e do ya?" he continued.
Twelve, Kip decided, twelve rotten teeth and four whole. Has this pirate never heard of dental hygiene? Fyora help me...
"Hey, Bert," called another pirate, a cunning looking Techo who had been circling the two of them like a Vullard. "See if he has any dubloons on him. A tax if you like."
"'Aye," said the one called Bert. "Tha' I may do."
Kip gulped nervously. Glad for freedom of his neck, he hiked up his waistcoat which had slipped off his back somewhat and in doing so felt the gentle clink of the few dubloons he had in his pockets. This wasn't going to plan. Admittedly he didn't have much of a plan, he wasn't expecting to just walk into The Smugglers' good books, but he hadn't banked on being robbed. It was time to take control.
"Please listen to me," Kip murmured. "I don't mean you any harm."
Bert roared with laughter once again, sounding like a hollow drum. It looked like the control was entirely in the hands of the pirates.
"Ye don' mean us no 'arm?" he chortled, wiping a tear from his good eye. "I don' think ye need to be concernin' yourself with causin' us 'arm. Ye worry abou' yeself young lad. Ye dare to be creepin' aroun' our cave, the one place in the entiri'y of Neopia where we, us smugglers can do wha' we like. And ye 'ave the nerve to claim us to not cause any harm. We don' take kindly to them spyin' types, see?"
Bert leaned in, one eye squinting at Kip, the other rolling around. His putrid breath was all Kip could focus on.
"I wasn't spying," Kip replied. "I told you I was here to join you."
Leaning back, Bert held Kip at arm's length, studying his young features. It appeared to Kip that his was admiring his nerve. Even the most veteran Neopets gave the Smugglers' Cove a wide berth. It was said to bring about bad luck, coupled with a marked decrease in dubloons. He let go of Kip's shirt and let him drop the three inches to the floor.
"We don' be in any need of no new crew," he said bluntly. "Get out of 'ere, and don' you dare even think about comin' back any time soon. If I catch you 'ere again, I may no' be so careful with ol' Sally 'ere."
As he said this, he patted the handle of his sword and winked his one good eye at the young Neopet. Kip thought about arguing, but decided it was best not to. The swords held in the smugglers' hands were still sending the light of the fire dancing around the cave. Looking up at the Bruce, he nodded slowly and started a brisk walk forwards, heading back to the cave entrance. He reached the circle of smugglers and pushed his way through. They all seemed much larger than him and those swords were still out, but they were letting him leave. As he broke free, his foot caught on something in the dim light. Looking at the sand beneath him, he saw it appeared to be approaching much more rapidly than he would have liked. Kip hit the ground with a soft 'thwump' and heard the pirates deriding laughter once more. Something brushed his side and he was instantly grateful for the helping hand. Perhaps these Smugglers aren't as bad as people made them out to be.
"'Ere, Vinny!" came the boisterous voice of Bert once more. "'Ands off our 'ere guest. We don' be robbin' no visitors to our cove whilst they be leavin' in such an orderly fashion, do we? Anyway, we be headin' back to our ship."
Kip felt the pressure lift from his side and realised that the hand had actually been rifling through his pockets, in no doubt for the tax the Techo had mentioned. He pushed himself to his feet and continued his rapid exit from the caverns. He stopped when he felt himself on solid mud once more, out of the fine sand of the Smugglers' Cove. Whilst Kip was angry at himself for not pushing further, for not convincing them to let him stay, he got more from the brief meeting than he had anticipated. He had only intended to spy on them for a little bit, perhaps get to know their names and the suchlike and use that information to become friendly with them.
Perhaps he had blown his original mission by not being stealthy enough, for they had seen him almost immediately, but he couldn't berate himself. On reflection it hadn't been that a bad trip to the cove. Sure they had laughed at him, but at least they knew his name. He recalled the number of Smugglers, eight in total. One Bruce with yellow teeth, bad breath and a sword named Sally. There was also a Techo, with a glint in his eye that unnerved Kip. He guessed that it was this Neopet who was called Vinny, for none of the others had seemed like pickpockets to him. Vague recollections of the other Smugglers came to mind, he thought there was a Lenny with a fancy hat, and perhaps a Gelert with an eye patch lounging by the fire. Funny that. The Gelert hadn't moved through the entire episode. Maybe he had a peg leg too.
Kip shivered and pulled his waistcoat tight around him. The waistcoat was important, as was all of his clothing. After all, a lot about being a pirate was the style. He had yet to see one wearing a three piece suit and bow tie. Kip had found a tatty shirt that fitted him, netted himself a waistcoat from the waters around Krawk Island and bargained for some grey pantaloons from a mad old Eyrie in the Golden Dubloon, who had been propping up the counter, swigging from a tankard of grog. They didn't quite fit him, but with a piece of rope, they just stayed on. Kip had even perfected his piratey 'Arrrghhh', staring into the mirror practising for hours. But to no avail, he never even managed to let out a solitary 'Aye'.
Kip shivered once more, noticing how quickly the mist of Krawk Island descended and coated the island in a chilly shroud. He pulled up his trousers and began trudge back to the Golden Dubloon. He had come so far, he had felt the touch of the blade. Admittedly on the wrong side, but still, he had been there, with a real smuggler. Despite this he muttered to himself as we walked away.
"I'm such an idiot." He spat. "How did I let myself get caught? Pirates are supposed to be the epitome of stealth. How am I supposed to smuggle wares if I can't even sneak around." As he said this, the image of Bert drifted across his mind. Kip stopped walking and frowned. He had been waiting for this day for so long and yet he was walking away. The sound came again, the toll. Kip looked it's direction. It could only be from the Smugglers' ship.
Decisively, he turned on his heel and followed the direction of the noise. He had come here to be a Smuggler and he wasn't going to quit that easily. It was alluring. There was a path winding past the Smugglers' Cove, well worn by the feet of pirates heading down to the dock. Kip found himself carefully negotiating the way down the steep incline, and approached the seafront. Through the mist there it was, in all its resplendent glory. It rose high from the water, casting a shadow over the beach's edge. The three masts stood firm as they swayed ever so gently in the breeze, just as he had remembered from his first murky sighting all the way from the boulder. The sails hung loose and Kip could hear the distant grunt of the Smugglers setting up the ship for sail.
"She's beautiful," uttered Kip, mesmerised. She was beautiful, magnificent, enchanting. His mind stalled as he tried to think of new words to describe the vessel before him.
The ship's bell rang out again, bringing him back to the task at hand. He scanned the coastline. There appeared to be no means of getting to the ship; the Smugglers must have used the only boat.
"Well," thought Kip to himself, "I suppose there is one good thing about being a Flotsam; as least I can swim."
He secured his meagre possessions in his waistcoat, and tied it firmly to his fin. He entered the water, revelling in how warm it felt on his skin, and slowly drew near the ship. He had forgotten just how good sea swimming was. He hadn't done it enough, despite living only a short walk from the sea. A few powerful flicks from his back fin and Kip had reached the side. He sidled along the edge holding his breath, expecting any second for there to be a holler, someone shouting. Nothing. Just the silent creaking of the boat, perhaps the night was too dark, or perhaps the Pirates were having dinner. Kip didn't trouble himself with the details.
He floated delicately towards the anchor chain; it stood firm in the night air. Placing one hand on it, hooking his rear fin around it, he hoisted himself up. The boat creaked menacingly, but still no corporeal noise. He inched his way up the chain. It was fortunate that he was light; it wasn't too much effort for Kip to hold his own weight.
As he got nearer the deck of the ship, Kip noticed a light shining from an open porthole not too far from where he was hanging precariously. Edging closer to it, he heard voices floating from the inside of the ship. Curiousity got the better of the flotsam, perhaps if he stretched a little, Kip could just about peep inside. By extending his neck he just got an eyeball to the crack in the window.
Several of the smugglers were sat around a table; both it and the walls were covered with charts and complex figures. Kip could recognise the Gelert from before, Lenny Fancy-Hat and, of course, Bert and Sally. They were all pouring over separate maps, frowning furiously with concentration. A lantern flickered with candle-light on the ceiling, lighting the room intermittently.
"It be no use," roared Bert. "We'll never find the blasted thing." The Lenny appeared unperturbed by this outburst, the Gelert however cocked one ear and eyed up the Bruce.
"Calm down, First Mate," he said soothingly. "We'll find it soon. Our source has never been wrong yet."
"'Aye," he growled. "Tha' I know, but this seems too... simple, even for our source. A ship full o' plunder, it claims, just lyin' at the botto' o' the ocean. An' even if we do fin' i', there be no way for us to be gettin' it 'ere. None 'ere can swim."
"That's just a bridge we'll have to cross when we come to it," replied the Gelert evenly, returning to his map. "But we won't be reaching that river unless we can interpret these charts correctly."
"'Aye Aye, Cap'n," was the sullen reply.
Cap'n? Kip leant back from the porthole. He had thought that Bert was surely the captain of this vessel but apparently he was 'First Mate', whatever that meant. He leant in again, only to see only the Lenny still studiously reading the charts; the other two having disappeared entirely. Kip was surprised and leant further out around the porthole to try and see where they were.
"Gotcha," said a voice, as a hand darted out of the hole and grabbed onto Kips waistcoat. Kip struggled in vain, but the grip was strong. He found himself being dragged through the porthole, and he struggled again, more frantically this time and found himself falling again, this time towards the ocean below. He didn't have time to align himself before.
He hit the water, surfacing almost immediately.
"Man Overboard!!" called a voice high above him, Kip could just see two heads poking out from the porthole, and smelt the putrid smell of musty clothes and sea biscuits before falling into unconsciousness as he felt himself begin to be hoisted up by strong hands on even stronger rope...
To be continued...