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Home < High Seas: Part Seven


by destervetha

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Chapter 7

There was, of course, chaos. When Desterenel burst in screaming the coordinates at the top of her lungs, the Uni patriarch's reaction was all Yoharran needed to deduce that the meaningless string of numbers were what he had been looking for. Desterenel's intervention saved the Uni child from receiving anything more than a singing, and under her frantic and passionate urging/pleading/bouncinginacircle Yoharran relented on the Uni captives, proclaiming to her in an exasperated tone that he hadn't been going to really hurt the child anyway.

      Under her watchful eyes, the Unis' wings were tied and the family was placed in one of the Tonne's tiny lifeboats. The equines were cast off attempting to untie the knots with their mouths, as the 'Feather sailed hard for the west. The crew of the Tonne' was left on their boat, after the pirates had shredded all their sails and taken all of the jewelry the 'Feather could hold. A worried Desterenel was curtly informed that she should mind her own business. The Unis would eventually get free and fly for help, along with whatever winged pets the Tonne' possessed. Their NSPS (Neopian Satellite Positioning System) unit was already broadcasting their location and a distress signal, and she should shut up and get out of everyone's way.

      Worn out and mollified, she returned to her tiny, wet bunk, and curled up to nap. She had a lot to think upon, her mind seething and tossing with the roll of the ship. Was this really what she wanted? Were these people all she had thought they were? Sure, in that childhood that seemed so far away now, she had desperately wanted to be a pirate. But after the glow of accomplishment had worn off, she had already been broken in; unable to think of any other life but the one she now led. The events of today had jolted her out of her unthinking path and caused her to reevaluate her situation.

      That morning, as she had flown above the Tonne', she had looked down upon those Unis…and they had looked back with fear. Did she really want to be feared? Yoharran had hurt the little Uni…even though he said that he hadn't really hurt her Desterenel could see little nicks and cuts on her hide. Would Yoharran have hurt her further? When Desterenel had burst into the room and argued for the child, the parents had looked at her in a new way…somehow, it made her feel proud, even just thinking about it. Did she want others to look at her that way again? Would they, if she stayed on the 'Feather?

      Stay on the 'Feather…That brought up a whole new line of thought. She couldn't leave…

     Could she?

     She fell asleep with these unsettling thoughts whispering into her mind, troubling her sleep with odd dreams. Nevertheless, when she awoke the next morning, she felt refreshed and full of resolve. She knew what she wanted to do.

     The Grey Feather was sailing at all speed for the island the coordinates said was there. It was not dramatically in the middle of the ocean; rather it was near the coast of Krawk Island, strangely enough. In a smattering of tiny inlets and miniscule islands off the tip of the infamous pirate hideaway, the coordinates listed it as a part of Berran's Run. Berran's Run was a long swathe of coral reef, vast and treacherous, with random outcroppings of house-sized coral protruding above the surf. It was approximately three months at all speed from where they currently were.

      This delay only gave Desterenel more time to stiffen her resolve. With this new perspective, she began eyeing her comrades in a new light. Suddenly her life on the 'Feather didn't seem as desirable as it once had. She began to realize over those three months to Berran's Run the extent to which she had been blinded by her position as part of the crew. How could she have stood this for years? Desterenel finally realized how she was constantly hungry, how no one treated the tiny cuts and scratches that she acquired as part of her daily work, how the others squabbled and fought, how Yoharran callously disregarded the blatant ill-treatment of the lowest ranks. The "doctor" was the ship's cook, their food was often filled with worms, nearly everyone had neomites, and every night she was serenaded to sleep by the racking coughs of her neomonia-suffering compatriots. Nothing was clean, the crew barracks smelled of vomit and worse, she got less than four hours of sleep a day, and she realized to her shock and dismay that she had gotten mange. Had had mange for weeks without caring.

     As she languished despondently in her bunk, picking unhappily at the mangy bits around her joints and under her chin, she began, for the first time in her stay on the 'Feather, to long for home. As her feathers, eaten away by damp, began coming loose, she thought of her cozy half-remembered bed back home. As some of her fur began to fall out as her lack of exercise further deteriorated her condition, her mouth watered at the thought of her mother's Kau stew. In the last few days before they reached Taduki, Desterenel realized with a shock of sadness that she couldn't remember the faces of her parents.

     It was only when the crew made landfall at Krawk Island that Desterenel realized how deplorable her condition had become. As the All-Hands bell jangled its familiar commanding tune, Desterenel attempted to scramble out of her bunk. She was met with lancing pain from her joints as they were forced to bear her weight, and an uncomfortable binding as her muscles stretched farther than they were wont. She lay hissing belly-down on the deck for a moment as she tried to clear her head. She tried to get up, and, after several attempts, managed it. Wobbling unsteadily out to assemble with the rest of the crew, Desterenel winced as her pupils shrank painfully in the unaccustomed glare of the noonday sun.

     As her vision cleared, the port where they had landed gradually resolved itself. The sun was high overhead, strong rays burning her nares and skin where the mange had robbed her of feathers. The stench of unwashed streets and rotting fish wafted up from the docks surrounding their slip, the fetid smell mixing with the usual dockside clamor of trading, fighting, and living. Seabirds yelped and squealed, muttered and trilled amid the resplendent filth. Trash was strewn outside every ship, as pirate captains were wont to throw their leavings uncaringly over the side. The predominant theme was grey, of varying shades and degree of tarnish; buildings, wood, ships, streets, windows, even the Neopets themselves were the same tired color.

     The scene hurt her eyes. She shut them, and suddenly realized that her tired mind had completely drifted away, causing her to miss all of Yoharran's briefing. Luckily, she hadn't been ordered to do anything. The rest of the crew dispersed, and Desterenel was left alone on the deck, swaying in exhaustion. She was too tired to move. Suddenly, her grey view of the greyish wooden planks and her greyish front paws was interrupted by another grey thing. It took her a moment to focus on the Cap'n's concerned face.

     Grey…'s'all grey…grey, grey… she thought stupidly to herself. Even the sky was grey today.

     "Oi, lass, be ye a'right?" said the Cap'n concernedly. He stood on tip-paws and threw his arm partway about her shoulder. "Ye look like ye could use a little summat, dear. Ha' ye been eatin' a'right?"

      Desterenel could only shake her head mutely. She hadn't been. Her thinking had awoken the fear of her unpredictable companions that she should have felt all along, her newfound nervousness barring her from the mess hall most of the time. She allowed herself to be shepherded back into the dark bowels of the Grey Feather to the mess, trying not to stumble down the stairs. Yoharran, in a rare burst of fatherly affection, set her up nicely in a deserted bunk, wrapping a damp blanket about her shoulders and giving her a bowl of hot…something to eat. She mechanically ate, not caring about the taste or color. It was nice because it was warm, and she was tired. Yoharran, unable to coax her into conversation, finally left her alone in the dark. Desterenel stared silently at the square patch of light let in by the doors. She did not come out for her scheduled land-leave that day.

     ~

      The crew was given only one day's shore leave at Krawk Island. Though ordinarily such a parsimonious allotment of freedom would have had them up in arms, there was not a single grumble from any of them. They knew there was an even higher prize at stake, and their handsome payoff had simply whetted their appetites for more. When evening came, the pirates were lined up dockside to get back on the Grey Feather. This earned them odd looks from the regular denizens of the port, who were used to Captains rooting all through their town early every morning to try and winkle out reluctant crewmembers from the seedy taverns lining the dockside. But such things held no interest today for the crew of the Grey Feather.

      Desterenel had slept on the ship that day, her new awareness of the very real danger lurking in Krawk Island keeping her safe within her bunk. She had used the opportunity to try and regain some of her strength by eating, having been granted permission by Yoharran to raid the stores of salt meat and hardtack. She lay in her damp cocoon of blankets gnawing on a strip of preserved Kau meat, whiling away the long dark hours as her more dangerous compatriots reveled in the bars. She used her stretch of unaccustomed free time to refine her plan. She couldn't go on as she was. She had resolved it, some remnant spark of her old determination rekindling the courage that had slept long dormant.

     ~

      As the sun set, momentarily hiding the ramshackle buildings' disrepair in the kind shades of dusky pinks and oranges, the crew began rigging sails to catch the tide. They moved swiftly and efficiently, barely making any noise as the night's chill gradually descended on Krawk Island. In very little time the 'Feather was gliding out over the calm seas with the receding tide, a moving patch of darkness momentarily blocking out the stars as she swept out to join others of her kind, all leaving under the anonymous cloak of night. But the 'Feather did not head out towards the mainland to raid the coastal farms, did not make towards the open ocean to try and intercept ships on the transoceanic trade routs. No, she instead circled swiftly around to the back side of the island, catching the rising breeze as she scudded towards Berran's Run.

     Yoharran was deep in conference with Rebarr and Dawslap, poring over their tattered map of the dangerous swathe of coral. Predictably, Desterenel's coordinates were marked with a large and fancy X written in flowing red ink, a little bit of conceit Yoharran believed he could afford, especially since he had plans for framing this particular map once everything was over and done with. Desterenel and three others of the best-eyed pirates were on the bow, warning the helmsman of dangerous rock outcroppings and surf-hidden boulders.

     Once they finally reached the small island, the 'Feather began the tricky business of anchoring. They tacked around the island several times, trying to find a spot to heave to, but were halted by the discovery of a tiny, but serviceable, dock. It was a spindly, camouflaged affair perched precariously on the side of the sheer, jagged rock face. The 'Feather cautiously tied up there, and the crew assembled on the deck. Desterenel reluctantly heaved herself out of her bunk for the inevitable briefing, and after confirming that she didn't have any duties this time either she returned to her bunk where she now spent most of her time. She hid there during the rush as all the pirates sprinted, screaming and whooping, along the narrow and twisty pathway coiling about the coral island.

      The path was treacherous, steep and slimy with sea life. As the pirates thundered along it, anemones curled away their flowery heads and rock crabs scuttled for dear life. The uncaring boots, claws, and feet of the raggedly shouting band scored the rocks and beat down the trail, knocking loose small bits of rock and stone. They egged each other on as they ran, their deep and excited cries echoing across the dark sea. Yoharran was out ahead of them all, bounding along for all he was worth as he managed to keep ahead of the younger, sprier Neopets by a hairsbreadth. The path they traversed with so little caution looped lazily about the small freighter-sized island, finally terminating at the very peak where it dove into a dark cave. It was at this cave that Yoharran finally managed to halt his crew. They stood panting, clutching bags, boxes, and anything that could be used as a container. He began outlining the plan of action with wild gestures, the glint of greed and triumph sparkling in his flat predator's eyes.

     Desterenel watched their tiny silhouettes against the gibbous moon. As she gazed, the crew's outlines disappeared as they began dashing into the cave. From where she stood, they appeared to be vanishing into the dark half of the moon. Finally only Yoharran's miniscule figure was left, until he too crossed over. She sighed into the chill night, and reluctantly allowed her blanket to slip from her shoulders as she stood. The only sounds were her feet against the planking, the gentle slap of waves against the 'Feather's wooden sides, and the tiny ship-noises that heralded a calm night. She became very conscious of these small noises, the creak of the mast and the quiet jingle of lines and fittings from up in the cavernous forest of rigging. The breeze sighed through the ship gently, just as she had done.

     Desterenel flexed her claws into the rough wooden planks and shuffled her wings nervously. She gave one final lash of her tail and abandoned the calm of the night and the beckoning promise of peace.

     It was time to go to work.

     Before she got down to her important business, there was something she had to do first. She walked slowly to the door to the Captain's quarters. The bridge was the one place that she had never entered in all her time on the 'Feather. She eased open the door carefully with her beak. With wide eyes she ventured into the hallway. There was actually a ratty carpet on the floor, and her feet trembled at the unaccustomed softness. Slowly she padded through the faintly rocking rooms, searching.

      Finally she found what she was looking for. Taking a pad of paper and a tattered pen from an old wooden desk, she began to write. She scrutinized the unfamiliar symbols for a moment, running the letter laboriously through her mind as she ran her eyes down the length of the scrap of parchment. Satisfied, she folded it and tucked it into her shirt. Now, it really was time. There was nothing holding her back.

     Desterenel could never have achieved what she next attempted, had not everything been completely in her favor. First, she had been left completely alone on the ship in the mad rush onto Taduki Island. Second, there was a strong prevailing wind blowing straight off the dock, broadside to the 'Feather. Third, the tide was high, covering the otherwise deadly reefs. And fourth, most importantly, the jib sails had been left ready to be run up.

     First Desterenel scrambled quickly back out through the damply carpeted hallways, running back to the helm, where the big oaken wheel was securely lashed. She cut through the rough hemp cord binding it and was off again instantly as the big rudder began swaying gently with the swell, free of encumbrance. She scrambled all the way to the first mast, and began hauling desperately on the lines, making them squeal through rusty pulleys and whip through block and tackle. Slowly the great jib sail unfurled; immediately snapping taut with the strong eastern wind. The ship groaned in protest as she began straining against her ties to the dock. Before Desterenel could race to the sides and untie the 'Feather, however, the ancient dock gave way. The mighty ship careened out of the impromptu berth trailing broken spars and planks from her thick mooring lines. She swept out wildly straight out of the dock, the rudder, uncontrolled, whipping wildly. Desterenel sprinted for the helm as the great ship slowly began heaving her nose away from the prevailing wind and the tiny jib began flapping ominously about the edges. She managed to catch the great wheel just in time, laboriously steering the ship back into a straight line. As the single unruly sail billowed and calmed, filling with air and beginning to pull the 'Feather through the water, Desterenel breathed a sigh of relief. She rested her head against the rough wooden wheel, heart pounding and adrenaline beginning to leave her battered frame. She sailed for several miles that way until she came to the open ocean, and through luck or providence her straight course did not intersect any of the other small islands.

     She had done it. She was free.

     The ship creaked and slowly glided forward through the gently heaving sea. The relatively small jib (a triangular sail with its leading edge attached to a long line running from the first mast to the bow of the ship) barely moved the bulk of the 'Feather, compared to when she sailed normally, but it was enough with the strong wind. Desterenel finally gave in and whooped, a dry squawk which caught in her throat.

     Home!

     She just needed to get beyond Krawk Island to the more reputable Mystery Island, luckily straight on from where she sailed, and take the next boat home…and she would be free. She would see her mother again, see her father again, see all her sisters and aunts and uncles. Tears began coursing down her salt-ravaged cheeks. They matted down the grey feathers into a deeper shade, rinsing away the sea-salt and filth. They shrouded her eyes, making the half-moon far above her seem surrounded by a fuzzy halo hiding the darker side.

     Home.

     ~

     Yoharran roared in joy. After he had careened down the path into the cave, hastily-lit torch held high above his head, he could not help but be swept away by the excitement. Everything he had striven for, all his wildest dreams…about to be realized! As the rush and roar of the ocean began to swell around his ears, he realized that the cave probably extended far under the sea into the living coral reef system. There was no other way to possibly cram all the treasure of the rumors into the fabled Taduki Island!

     The flood of torch-waving Neopets washed into the enormous cavern. As they burst into the small clearing, they all stopped. There came the rushing noise of sixty pairs of lungs drawing a deep breath all at once. The late-coming pirates crammed into the backs of those before, beginning to squabble and then falling silent as the majesty of what they were viewing penetrated their thick grey skulls.

     Treasure. That was the only word to describe it. It was not all piled in a disorderly mound, not heaped in careless, filigree-crushing mountains. No, it was stacked in orderly rows, gold bar upon gold bar, necklaces and pearls on display in long, long aisles of jewelry racks. Their torches cast sheets of shimmering opalescence over the shelves, diamonds and precious stones winked from every corner. The pirates shuffled about in awe for a moment, until the spell was broken. They began running, grasping their bags and boxes firmly, desperately stuffing things into their impromptu containers. But their desperation soon wore off, to be replaced with glee as they gloated, taking their time, and picking out only the prettiest, shiniest baubles. They began bedecking themselves in bracelets, chains, filling their ears with rings and draping their necks with heavy stone-encrusted necklaces. Slowly even their wild swirl of acquisitive activity wore off; to be replaced with lolling contentment as they simply gazed at their wealth.

     Eventually Yoharran roused them all. He was at the head of the group again when they surfaced out of the cave. Thus, he was the first to notice the single imperfection marring this joyful occasion.

     …The Grey Feather was gone. His ship was gone. With unbelieving eyes he staggered forward, followed by equally startled crewmembers. Jewelry began falling from limp fingers, chains hissed to the ground and richly-laden boxes thudded unheedingly to the rock. The Grey Feather was gone. Suddenly his sharp eyes spotted something square and pale.

     He bent down and carefully picked it up with ragged claws. Straightening, he turned to his crew, the letter grasped firmly in his hands. He scrutinized the unfamiliar object carefully, then slowly raised his head.

     "Now, gents, can any o' ye read?" Yoharran finally said, voice ringing unexpectedly loud in the unnatural silence.

     No one spoke. Then, finally, Rebarr coughed and shuffled forward, shouldering through the ranks of smaller Neopets. Coming to a halt in front of Yoharran, he nervously inclined his head.

     "Aye, Sir. I can read, a little, Sir." So saying, he gently relieved Yoharran of the note, spearing it deftly with a flexed claw from his Captain's slack grasp. No pirate made a single sound as the crinkle of paper filled the chill midnight air. Rebarr's great orange orbs scanned the document once, and he sucked in a breath. All present leaned forward slightly, those nearest the big grey Eyrie trying to peer over his shoulder. Rebarr coughed again, and his gaze flicked to his Captain and then back to the scrap of parchment dwarfed in his big grey paw.

     "It says-" here he had to pause, sounding out the next words with a nervous look at his Captain, "It says, 'Stole your boat, Thanks, Cap'n, Sir' exclamation point, Sir. It…it appears she's drawn a little heart beneath the message, Cap'n, Sir."

     ~

Epilogue

     Desterenel did eventually make it home. After many sleepless nights, she abandoned the Grey Feather, unable to control the great ship any longer. She flew the rest of the way, climbing higher into the sky than she ever had before to catch a ride on the mighty winds that blow at cloud level. In this way she flew for two days and a night until she reached Mystery Island, sleeping in the bushes and then buying her passage home on the ferry with the few dubloons left from her pay. Later, as her kin-group grew in prosperity by leaps and bounds, she was painted Electric Blue as a surprise birthday present, when her entire family became a Thunder Clan.

     ~

     The Grey Feather, having been abandoned by its sole remaining crewmember, sailed on, wheel lashed securely and favoring winds still filling the lone sail. She was never found.

     ~

     Yoharran and crew did manage to make it off Taduki Island. When the tide turned they managed to swim back to Krawk Island, and recover some of their funds from buried bits of their hoard and their deposited profits in the battered Krawk Island branch of the National Neopian. Yoharran used this money to finance a complete excavation of the treasure island, much to the wrath of Bullion, inc. who could do nothing about it as they officially didn't know it existed. The Captain retired with his earnings to a penthouse in Neopia Central, investing the entirety of his wealth into the NeoDAQ and creating a few tax-free capital reserves of his own.

     ~

     Dawslap and Rebarr stayed with Yoharran, fulfilling their time-worn roles as his bodyguards, now with Grand Lightning Beams, Ghostkerswords, and Purple Scorchstones instead of rusty cutlasses and hasty bandages.

     ~

     Of the rest of the crew, not much is known, though it is believed that at least half of them returned to the pirating life.

The End

 
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Other Episodes


» Home < High Seas: Part One
» Home < High Seas: Part Two
» Home < High Seas: Part Three
» Home < High Seas: Part Four
» Home < High Seas: Part Five
» Home < High Seas: Part Six



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