Anneslace and the Imposter Apple
"Wake up, Quartermistress!”
Anneslace sleepily blinked her eyes open. The bright chirping of a Stahkee flock cascaded through the salty air, breaking through the susurrus of waves lapping gently against the ship’s hull. Her rich purple antennae stretched languorously as her eyes adjusted to the shaft of morning light pouring through the porthole. In her cabin doorway, a Flotsam smiled guiltily.
“What is it, Tafiti?” Anneslace squinted at the clipboard hanging from her bedpost. “My shift isn’t for another… four hours.” She smiled peaceably, but pointedly.
“We’ve had… an incident in the galley. It seems Sam got himself a Krawkadon at Little Nippers when we docked at Warf Wharf…”
Anneslace bolted upright in her bed. “A Krawkadon? In the galley? I told Sam he could get a nice, sedate Plathydon, not a Krawkadon.” She paused. “How much… how much food is left?”
Tafiti gave a half-hearted smile. “None? Well, certainly not enough to feed the crew before we could restock at Mystery Island. So, either we skip today’s meals and return to Mystery Island on schedule…”
“…or we return to Krawk Island, putting us behind schedule, but with a well-fed crew.”
Tafiti nodded. “No question. I may only be acting Captain, but this seemed a no-brainer. I’ve already ordered the ship to return to port.”
Anneslace sighed. “Krawk Island’s not the best place to get provisions. Most everything there is high-priced because of the gambling, and we’ll have to pay in Dubloons no matter what. Well, maybe we can barter.” She looked Tafiti squarely in the eyes. “And you’re going to have to have a word with Sam. He’s going to have to trade that Krawkadon in for a Plathydon.”
“Might not be easy. Little Nippers doesn’t have a return policy. No one on Krawk Island does.”
“Then you’ll just have to get Admiral Kyrwinne to see reason,” smiled Anneslace.
Tafiti shook his head. “I expected my toughest job as acting Captain would be avoiding Lutari Island, or Chiazilla, not dealing with a weeping galley chef and negotiating with cranky retired pirates. Are you sure you can’t handle this for me?”
Anneslace glanced out the porthole pensively. “I’ll tell you what. Go talk to every crew member, and if you can find one who’s never had to do something unpleasant in the performance of their duties, I’ll gladly handle Kyrwinne for you.”
Tafiti grinned. “Well played, Quartermistress. You handle the restocking, and I’ll handle the re-Krawking.”
The trip to Warf Wharf proved mercifully uneventful. No Krawken attacks, no encounters with bloodthirsty pirates. Even Admiral Kyrwinne gladly exchanged petpets, on condition that Tafiti not spread the word that he had sold a voracious Krawkadon to a galley chef.
Finding provisions posed a greater challenge. Krawk Island boasted no food shops. Poorer folk eked out a living, and stocked their pantry, from the sea and had little to spare. Wealthier residents, their coffers bulging from Krawk Island’s gambling and luxury establishments, frequented the sumptuous cuisine of the Golden Dubloon. Anneslace had no intention of paying the five-star restaurant’s exorbitant price to feed an entire crew, but hoped she might at least find out who stocked their kitchen.
Anneslace and Tafiti were lucky enough to be seated despite having no reservations. The proprietor, the salty Captain Hackett, greeted them enthusiastically enough, but refused to divulge his provisioner. Anneslace even suspected that Hackett was trying to warn her against asking too many questions, but perhaps that was par for the course in Krawk Island’s premiere meeting place. Fortunately, as Anneslace lingered over her Blueberry and Oyster Ice Cream, a Blue Krawk strode over to their table.
“Mind ye if I pull up a chair? The restaurant be packed like a tin o’ sardines,” smiled the Krawk. Anneslace cleared a space while Tafiti gestured for him to join them.
“The name’s Dorak. ‘Tis a relief to be back on terra firma, after a long day’s labour harvesting Dubloons,” he cooed, sliding down into his seat.
“Aye. There be plenty o’ treasure offshore fer an enterprisin’ young ‘Pet, if’n he be willing to roll up the ol’ sleeves an’ put in an honest day’s work. Of course, the local freebooters might disagree,” he scowled. “Not that them sons o’ biscuit eaters know aught about honest work.”
Anneslace and Tafiti glanced at each other. “Freebooters? Are pirate raiders still around?”
“Around?” scoffed Dorak. “Sure as they be around more than ever, now that Scurvy Island be spittin’ distance from Krawk Isle. Say, ye going to finish that?” Shaking his head, Tafiti slid his leftover Slithering Squid Surprise towards the hungry young Krawk.
“Anyways,” added the Krawk between bites of tentacle, “scavenging Dubloons be hard enough, without them bilge rats launchin’ them scurvy firin’ mines every time I sights me a Dubloon. Me poor dinghy, she took some damage today. This here may be the last decent meal I get fer a spell, until as I can get her repaired.”
Anneslace pondered for a moment. “Surely there’s other foodstuffs for sale on the island than the Golden Dubloon?”
Dorak tilted his head. “I shouldn’t think so. The lads at the Smugglers Cove might know, but they’re harder to find than Jhudora’s Wand. I’ve never known them to stock food less’n it were also a weapon.” His mouth stretched into a slow smile, revealing tooth after sharper tooth. “Hold on. There is one fella who’s never at a loss for fine victuals. If I were ye, I’d pay a visit to our esteemed Governor.”
Anneslace nodded to Tafiti. “Captain, I think we can spare a rowboat for this fine lad.”
Anneslace trudged westward towards the Governor’s imposing, two-story mansion; Tafiti’s tail carved a trail in the coarse sand behind him. To the south, tourists combed the beach looking for small treasures washed up in the surf. As the mansion loomed ever larger before them, desert trail gave way to cobblestones, and then to inlaid brick.
“Nice digs,” muttered Tafiti. “Much nicer than the McGill shanty I once delivered a package to, years ago.”
The grand foyer looked like Hubrid Nox’ seaside summer palace, if Nox had suffered from an unhealthy mermaid fixation. Dual spiral staircases, carpeted in luxurious burgundy, swept high above. The tapping of Anneslace’s shoes on the marble floor echoed softly from the vaulted ceiling. From behind an oak door, an affronted voice piped in protest, followed by a smooth, unctuous baritone. Anneslace’s antennae flexed involuntarily.
“Now, Soggy Bottom, was it? Surely you understand that we cannot sit back and relax while Krawk Island's restoration remains incomplete. As a matter of national security, I… that is, the citizens of Krawk Island, cannot allow a stray islet to operate independently. Any potential compromise of our anchoring system poses a threat to my… that is, to Krawk Island’s interests. I’m sure you didn’t intend to violate Krawk Island law by keeping your islet separate and unanchored…”
“It’s Soggy Boots, Soggy Boots! And It was you who put the island back together all wrong, and left me and mine to our own devices!” screeched the first voice.
“What?” purred the baritone. “Oh, no, no. Rest assured that those who threaten the stability and security of this island will face just retribution for their crimes. Wouldn’t it just be a crime if you found yourself at the tender mercies of a giant Krawken? Are you really willing to risk an incident?”
“Why, you… you…” the other voice sputtered. “You haven’t heard the last of this. On my honour, Soggy Boots will defend his lands and kin, you tyrant!” Watery footsteps receded, then a door slammed, and then a hollow silence filled the air. As swiftly as possible without making a noise, Anneslace and Tafiti drew back from the door.
“Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?” Anneslace called out loudly, in her most cheerful tone.
The oak door swung open smoothly, and a tall, lean Green Krawk clad in a tricorner hat and resplendent finery stepped forth. The Krawk smiled serenely, but his steely purple eyes bored holes through them, glancing past Tafiti’s Camouflage colors but taking careful note of Anneslace’s Royal skin and garb. “Ah, visitors! Allow me to introduce meself: Governor Gavril McGill, at your service. Are you here to help with the daily maintenance and repair of our anchoring system? It’s become quite the local attraction… I've heard rumours that a sea monster may be responsible, but you know pirates and their tall tales. If nothing else, with Krawk Island's riches scattered to the four winds, I'm certain you've come across plenty of... fringe benefits, no? Hehe.”
“That’s most kind of you, Your Excellency,” demurred the Ruki, “but we’ve come on a pressing business matter. Our ship has had a galley mishap, and we need to stock at least a few days’ worth of provisions. Is there any way you could see fit to helping us?”
The Krawk’s eyes glinted. “I’m sure we can come to some arrangement. Please, join me in my office.” He gestured them past the oak door, into an even more sumptuous room, festooned with tacky but expensive mermaid memorabilia. Stacks of official-looking documents lay scattered across a large wooden table that even Anneslace’s long Ruki limbs would have trouble reaching across. Gavril’s eyes darted to an open scroll, and quickly went to remove it, when he was interrupted by a banging on the wall. Gavril leapt to his feet and cracked open the panel of a hitherto secret door, blocking his visitors’ view.
“Gorkrin, what do you think you’re doing?” hissed the Governor. Anneslace and Tafiti’s eyes shot open in alarm. “I told you never…” Gavril’s voice dropped so low that even Anneslace’s sensitive hearing could not follow.
After some brief murmuring, Gavril nearly closed the panel shut and turned to Anneslace with his most ingratiating smile. “Beggin’ your forgiveness, but I have to attend to a most urgent matter. Please stay seated. I’ll return shortly.” With surprising speed, Gavril darted through the secret door, which closed with an imperious click.
“He did say Gorkrin, right? I didn’t just imagine that?” whispered Tafiti anxiously. Anneslace shook her head, her brow furrowed with concern. Gorkrin was the worst kind of pirate, petty and ruthless. Years ago, just after Faerieland fell, both Anneslace and Tafiti had been taken captive and conscripted into service by the cruel Meerca pirate. Only Tafiti’s Flotsam athleticism had kept him alive when Gorkrin had ordered him keelhauled, dragged underneath the ship’s hull, and subsequently shackled. Tafiti absently rubbed his pectoral fins.
“Anneslace, what do we do?”
Anneslace pressed the tips of her fingertips together, and closed her eyes. “This changes everything. Gavril’s in league with the pirates. Look around, and pay attention.”
Tafiti examined a large map of Krawk Island on the wall, with an ominous red X on a small islet off the southern coast. Arrows connected Scurvy Island, Smugglers Cove, and various other locations on the main island. Anneslace skimmed the documents strewn across the table, and gasped. She quickly replaced a vellum parchment as the secret panel once again swung open.
“Thank you for being so quick, Your Excellency,” Anneslace nodded politely as the Governor took his seat. “Now, about purchasing provisions for my crew…”
“You can’t seriously be buying food from that… that tyrant!” muttered Tafiti as soon as they were a safe distance from the mansion. “You saw those charts. That slick-talking snake is running a crime syndicate out of Scurvy Island, and he’s planning on crushing anyone beneath his bootheel who gets in his way!”
“Easy there, tiger,” Anneslace murmured. “Some of my best friends are slick-talking Hissies. And I saw more than you did. There was a shipping manifest, calling for mines to be fired into Smugglers Cove if the smugglers don’t do as he says. There was a scroll threatening to send the Swashbuckling Academy drifting out to sea if Threelegs doesn’t train a private army.”
“Want to bet Scurvy Island is concealing a naval battalion?”
“And yet you’re going to trade with him for food?!”
“Why not? We need food, and it’s an honest trade. It may be the only honest trade he’s done all day,” Anneslace ruminated.
“And we’re going to do nothing about his plans?”
“Of course not.” Anneslace pressed her lips tightly. “We’re going to notify Captain Phidianne and the Mystery Island Council of Elders. We’re going to steer very, very clear of Scurvy Island. We’re just one schooner, and we can’t do much about global geopolitics, especially without endangering our own crew. But I think we can set one thing right before we leave.”
Tafiti grinned as he watched yet another floating mine explode in a geyser of applesauce. “Well, Quartermistress, it looks like Operation Imposter Apple is a success. Those Chia Apple Bombs we gave old Soggy Boots are doing a splendid job of safely clearing the pirates’ mines away from his islet. I still can’t believe you got hold of so many.”
“Smugglers Cove and Cap’n Threelegs were quite happy to oblige. It seems they’re not entirely happy with the good Governor’s micromanagement policies.” Anneslace smiled. “Besides, I suspect Threelegs was glad to be rid of them. I have it on good authority that they’re otherwise overpriced and underpowered for use in regular combat.”
“What I still don’t understand is why you called it Operation Imposter Apple. Aren’t Imposter Apples just oranges in disguise?”
“Oh, wake up, Captain. What better to combat Scurvy with?”
With that, they settled down to dinner as the ship set sail for home.