Deep Secrets: Part Twelve
The crew of the Draik’s Dagger was not trained for stealth and quick exits, and it was almost dawn when their ship hurried out of the Krawk Island harbor.
The Black Pawkeet, on the other hand, had been ready and waiting for hours, tucked into a little cove. A spy had alerted the captain, Gentleman Johnny, of what the Dagger’s plans were and which direction she was headed.
Now the sleek striped Xweetok stood on the deck of his ship and waited.
When the prow of the Dagger nosed past their cove, he nodded to his first mate, who directed the crew to their stations with soft whistles and gestures. They untied ropes but held steady, waiting for the signal.
Gentleman Johnny waited until the Dagger was entirely past the mouth of the cove, and then took a gold-plated watch out of his waistcoat pocket and timed three minutes.
As the second hand crept closer to the top, he raised his free arm.
At three minutes precisely, he dropped it back to his side. Ropes slid through paws silently, and then were looped and tied down. Everything was timed and ready. The only noises to be heard as the Pawkeet slid out of the little bay were the padding of the crew’s feet on the deck and the gentle creak of the ship.
The Xweetok kept an eye on the Draik’s Dagger through a little brass telescope he kept in his waistcoat pocket. The ship was steady on her course: they must not have noticed them yet.
Or they thought the best way to outrun the Pawkeet was to keep going.
Gentleman Johnny knew better. There was no best way to outrun the Black Pawkeet, or even a good way. Or a way at all—not when he was commanding it.
“Steer to starboard,” he murmured to the first mate, and the purple Ixi signaled the helm.
They made good time, cutting through the water to edge up on the right side of the Dagger. For a long time, the crew didn’t seem to notice them.
Gentleman Johnny started to smile. Would they really make it that easy?
But he kept his eye trained to the spyglass. Maybe these were more worthy opponents than he’d thought.
The Draik’s Dagger, in fact, had only recently noticed them. Nathaniel was still sound asleep in his cabin, and the crew had started out creeping around, trying not to make too much noise. There had been three accidents already.
The Pawkeet was a hundred yards away when a deckswabber happened to glance up and notice it; he shouted, pointing, and the Dagger’s crew went into a flurry of activity. No longer caring if Nathaniel was asleep or awake, the first mate strode through all of it, shouting orders.
Gentleman Johnny’s smile widened as the little figures on board the Dagger started running in every direction. He followed their action with his telescope, watching their technique.
“Shabby,” he muttered. “Too slow.”
But he saw the pattern. They were trying to run.
Even now, with the Black Pawkeet just off their stern, they were trying to run.
The Xweetok watched the crew of the Draik’s Dagger race around their deck, trying to avoid something that was inevitable and inescapable.
“Hold steady,” he said, and smiled.
The two ships beat against the wind, tacking up along the shore of Mystery Island. Gentleman Johnny held his ship back from going quite as quickly as it could, keeping the same distance from the other no matter how slowly it went. It gave the crew of the Dagger inspiration to work harder, to see the Pawkeet not gaining on them.
And they did, tiring themselves out before the battle was even begun.
As they rounded the curve to the north edge, the Xweetok gave the signal, and the Black Pawkeet started edging up on the port side of the Dagger, hemming it in along the coast.
The Draik’s Dagger had started steering to port, but they fell back as the Pawkeet slid up, gaining yards by the moment.
Gentleman Johnny lived for the instant when his ship slipped up alongside the other, leaving them no room to run.
But it didn’t do to let others know what he particularly enjoyed. They might use it against him. So he merely collapsed his brass telescope and turned to his first mate.
“Let them know they can surrender whenever they wish,” he said quietly, and stepped past the Ixi. “The captain has something I would particularly like to acquire. If I must speak with him, so be it.”
His boots clicking against the deck were the loudest noise on board the Black Pawkeet as he made his way to the center of his ship. They didn’t need to be stealthy any more, but Gentleman Johnny trained his crew to be quiet. It spooked his opponents to go into battle against a silent enemy.
The Ixi nodded, anticipation in all the taut lines of his face, and walked toward the starboard side of the vessel as the two ships lined up. The Dagger’s frantic attempts at recovering had failed, and now the crew stood in frightened clusters all over the desk. The first mate of the Black Pawkeet swept them with a practiced eye: he didn’t think they would have had the time or the manpower to load any cannons, but he liked to be certain.
“Ahoy, the Draik’s Dagger!” the Ixi called. His voice echoed over the mere yards of water that separated the two ships.
A Gnorbu stepped forward. “Ahoy, the Black Pawkeet,” he answered. His voice was hoarse, like he’d been yelling orders for hours. He had been.
“Do you yield?”
Whispers rose and fell through the crew of the Draik’s Dagger like ocean waves. The Gnorbu laid hand on his sword and glared around at them.
“Stand easy, the lot of you.” He turned back to the Pawkeet. “What do you want? Gold? Silver.”
The Ixi raised his head, putting prearranged orders in action. A moment later, a gunner below decks in the Pawkeet brought flame to the touchhole of a cannon.
The Gnorbu flinched as the cannonball hit the Dagger at close range.
“We have you at our mercy. Do not toy with us.”
Behind him, Gentleman Johnny selected a pear from a bowl of fruit. The Xweetok looked it over, and then bit slowly into it.
A trickle of juice wound its way down his chin. Gentleman Johnny, without looking away from the first mate of the Dagger, lifted a hand to wipe it away. He licked his paw clean with a long, pink tongue.
The Gnorbu shivered.
“Where is your captain? A coward, is he, that sends his first mate up on deck all alone to fight his battles?” The Ixi’s voice was sharp.
The cry came from another member of the Dagger’s crew. The Ixi smiled, a slow, wicked smile.
“Then ask him out on deck,” he purred. “My master would treat with him.”
“One moment,” the Gnorbu stammered, and whispered furious orders into the ear of a blue Skeith. It was more like ten minutes; Gentleman Johnny ate a pear and three raspberries with exquisite pleasure, while his first mate eyed the crew one at a time as if sizing them up.
At last Nathaniel stumbled up the stairs and onto the deck of his ship, and the Ixi let his gaze drift over to the captain.
“Ah, so he is awake.” The Ixi smiled at him.
The Draik unfurled his wings and then refolded them. “The Black Pawkeet. I knew someone was watching me. I just didn’t know who. You know about it, then?”
The Ixi tilted his head inquisitorially, politely. “Know about what, exactly?”
“You know very well what,” Nathaniel snarled, lunging across the deck with one hand outstretched. Sun glinted on turquoise and blue. “This! My prize treasure!”
“Ah.” He didn’t look at Gentleman Johnny, and the Xweetok didn’t look at him. He didn’t look at the ring, or the Draik, either. He seemed wholly absorbed in the matter of choosing his next raspberry.
Their indifference bothered Nathaniel. He dropped his arm. “What do you want, then? The gold? I’ll give you the gold.”
The call came from a different crewmember this time, but a murmur of agreement ran through the rest of them.
“My, my, Captain Montblanc. One might desire a little more obedience in one’s crew, mightn’t one...”
“Enough, Rasputin.” Gentleman Johnny dropped his last raspberry en route to his mouth; his shoe landed squarely on top of it when he stepped forward. Red juice spurted out from underneath the toe of his boot. “If they wish to mutiny, what of it? Many have gotten ships and crews in this way.”
The legend around Krawk Island was that Gentleman Johnny had acquired his first ship this way. Nathaniel shivered.
“And indeed, I would encourage it, if their captain were making badly thought decisions on what to give up.”
The Xweetok smiled.
“Thankfully, we will take away this admittedly difficult decision—by taking everything.” He looked to one side. “Rasputin?”
The Ixi whistled for the crew. Grappling hooks and boards flew. A few of the Dagger’s pirates started forward, but their fellows held them back. The Black Pawkeet’s crew grinned and sneered at them, sauntering past to inspect the contents of the hold.
Gentleman Johnny turned away, confident that Rasputin could oversee the transference of everything of value into the Pawkeet.
It took three burly pirates to restrain Nathaniel Montblanc when they tried to take his ring from him, and three words from Gentleman Johnny to turn the captain of the Draik’s Dagger pale. After that, the Draik handed his ring over willingly, and the Xweetok slid it onto his finger slowly, looking Nathaniel right in the eye.
They left after that; the ring was the last valuable thing left on the ship. Leaving the Dagger to limp into port on its own, they flew across the waves toward Neopia Central.
The crew did their duties and then retreated below decks, leaving only the fewest possible needed to help the ship along.
Gentleman Johnny stood on the prow of his ship and watched the waves slide away underneath him. He took off the ring and twiddled it between his fingers, wondering why Nathaniel had prized it so. Obviously it was valuable. But what if it were magic?
He’d have to ask someone who knew about those things. There had to be someone like that in Neopia Central.
The Xweetok looked to the horizon and smiled. Montblanc’s treasure was little when measured against his own fortune, but it was considerable, and the ring would make the trip even more worth his while—even if it wasn’t magic, it was a rare stone, and nice-looking, too.
The ship hit some sort of obstacle underwater, and it gave an uneasy jerk and went half a degree off course.
It wasn’t considerable, but it was enough: Gentleman Johnny lost his balance and took half a stumbling step toward the rail.
The ring flew from his hand, and he grabbed for it, stretching out as far as he could. It was too far away, and his paw closed on empty air.
All he got was a glimpse of it vanishing, and the little concentric circles of ripples spreading out from where it had fallen.
Then the Pawkeet was past it, and Gentleman Johnny clung to the rail as if it were he, not the ring, sinking under the water, shedding oxygen in bubbles that drifted lazily up to the surface; as if it were he who was caught up by the currents of the ocean and swept away, and placed gently onto the sea floor somewhere far from where he had fallen.
He did not know where he was; he could not get up.