Pirate Curse: Part One
Tamzin shot awake. There was none of the usual haziness that comes in between sleeping and waking. She sat up on the raggedy straw cot, staring hard into the darkness, wide awake, the hairs on the back of her neck standing up. She put a hand to the tiny pearl from her father she wore on a string about her neck, possibly the only thing of real value in the whole cottage. The faint embers of the fire still glowed slightly in the grate, but otherwise the whole small cottage was dark. Tamzin strained her ears, but the only sound she heard was her mother’s shallow snores from the adjoining room. And yet, something had caused her to wake.
Warily, Tamzin slowly lay back down, and then flew up again as something scraped against the door. She clutched the blankets, staring wide-eyed at the door. The roaring sound that happened when she listened too hard filled her ears.
The door burst open quite suddenly, and Tamzin screamed. A shadow leaped across the few feet to Tamzin’s narrow cot and at once clapped a hand over her mouth. Terror filled Tamzin so that she could hardly breathe. She struggled soundlessly, kicking and thrusting out.
“Cut it out,” an annoyed, husky voice whispered in her ear. She felt soft feathers tickle her cheek. Another figure moved into the room, a shadowy Krawk shape in the darkness.
“Got ‘im, Bart?” it asked loudly.
“Shut up!” hissed Bart, lifting Tamzin bodily off of her bed. She struggled again, now angry. How dare these two thieves break into her house?!
“Great seas, he’s strong,” Bart said, panting as he pressed Tamzin hard against his chest. Tamzin, her nose in his vest, smelled salt and leather. A sailor, then, she thought in disgust. Not unusual, considering that Tamzin’s small house was just off of the docks, practically the edge of Krawk Island. It was not an ideal place to live if you didn’t like seawater.
“C’mon, put the letter down and let’s get goin’,” Bart said. Tamzin could feel him start walking. Toward the door, she supposed, as she couldn’t see anything.
The next moment, a wave of cold, salty air hit Tamzin, who shivered beneath her thin nightdress. Her heart beat wildly, throwing itself against her ribs as though determined to escape.
“I can’t see him,” the second figure complained, his voice coming from right next to Tamzin.
“Of course not, you fool, Jeremy,” Bart said. He shifted Tamzin slightly. “It’s dark, and you’re a Krawk, not some see-in-the-dark idiot.”
“Am not an idiot,” complained the mentioned Krawk. Tamzin began to struggle again, when something hit her. She wrenched her face free from Bart’s chest and spat: “I’m a girl, so stop calling me ‘him’!”
Both Krawks were so surprised they stopped abruptly, and Bart nearly dropped her. Tamzin saw them clearly for the first time as the moon slid out from behind a cloud and illuminated their patch of dock. They were tall, sturdy-looking Pirate Krawks, their steely-grey feathers almost iridescent in the moonlight.
“A girl?!” the both exclaimed in unison.
“Yes, a girl,” Tamzin said tartly, her scorn causing her to forget her fear. “Haven’t you ever heard of them?”
“A-aye, but, but...” Jeremy seemed lost for words.
“I suppose the Cap’n never did say if the child ‘twas a boy er not,” Bart said slowly, relaxing his grip on Tamzin so that she could struggle into a sitting position. “We jus’ assumed, naterally.”
“Who are you talking about?” Tamzin asked, bewildered and quite angry. “And why are you taking me?”
“Cos’, cos’ o’ the Curse,” Bart said, starting to walk again. His boots make soft thumps on the wooden dock boards.
“Curse?” Tamzin questioned, interested in spite of herself. It was a special sort of person who could capitalize words on a whim, and ‘Curse’ was definitely capitalized.
“Aye. Reckon the Captain’ll tell ye all about it,” Jeremy said seriously, jogging to keep up.
“Well, when are we getting there?” Tamzin asked impatiently. Bart laughed.
“We’re here, missy.”
Tamzin looked up. The prow of a ship stood feet from them, bobbing gently in the smooth waters and casting a long shadow across them. She couldn’t see much else in the dim light, but it looked large.
“Up ye go.”
Bart pushed her against the ship’s side, onto a rope ladder. Instinctively, Tamzin began to climb. She could hear Bart and Jeremy puffing up behind her.
“Weel, welcome to tha Pirates’ Curse,” Bart announced proudly as Tamzin hauled herself over the ship’s side and landed on all fours on the deck. She smelled mildew and tar and salt, the boards rough beneath her paws.
“Lovely,” she muttered, picking herself up. The ship swayed, rocking her dizzily.
“Isn’t she a beauty?” Jeremy said, almost reverently, coming up behind them.
“Found her, then?”
All three of them looked up, straight into the face of the most handsome red Lupe Tamzin had ever seen. He wore velvet britches, a loose shirt, a billowing cloak fastened with a gold brooch, and a tri-corner hat. By the light of the moon, he seemed to glow all over like some ghostly apparition. He smiled at Tamzin.
“So, what would be the little girl’s name?”
“Eh,” said Bart, shifting uncomfortably.
“We dunno, Captain,” Jeremy put in helpfully.
“You didn’t ask her name?” the Captain said, his handsome face wrinkling in puzzlement. “Then how do ye know if ye’ve got the right child?” His tone was almost condescending.
“I’m Tamzin,” Tamzin said loudly. The captain looked at her.
“Ah.” The captain smiled slowly. “Daughter of Marian and Yom Herner?”
Tamzin frowned. How did he know?
“I suppose,” she answered slowly.
“Come with me.” The captain gestured with his head toward the large cabin a few feet from them. “Jeremy, Bartello, rouse those scurvy pets; prepare to sail.”
Tamzin followed the captain as the two Krawks scurried to follow the captain’s bidding.
“So,” the Lupe captain said, closing the door of his cabin behind Tamzin. Tamzin glanced nervously around. The cabin was richly furnished in silks and velvets, with an array of swords hung neatly on the walls. They jittered slightly as the ship rocked, but the large sea chests against the wall stayed put.
“Have ye a seat.” The captain gestured toward one of two chairs bolted to the floor on either side of a small round table. Tamzin slowly sat down, scanning the map that was pinned to the table. It was highly detailed, all the names carefully inked in, in spidery handwriting. The captain sat down opposite her and removed his hat, setting it on the table between them like some sort of bartering piece.
“So, I expect ye’ll be wondering why we’ve kidnapped you, eh?” His dark eyes twinkled in a most un-piratish way.
“Yes,” Tamzin answered bluntly. The captain nodded.
“First, I’m Havibrin Cahler, Captain of the Pirates’ Curse.”
“Silly name for a ship,” Tamzin told him, feigning disinterest as she looked about the cabin. The captain grinned.
“She’s a pirate ship, mate. What d’you expect?”
“Something more elegant and refined,” Tamzin told him scornfully.
“Who’d’ve reckoned?” Captain Cahler whispered to himself, shaking his head in mock sorrow. Then he looked back at Tamzin. “Now, the Curse: There’s a sailor song, p’raps ye’ve heard it? It goes:
Sailor you are doomed,
If land you love as much as sea,
For only one can you have,
The other you must leave.
Cursed you are if sea you love,
And land you cannot leave.
All pirates fear this dreadful doom,
Yet upon those most unwary it does come.
Joined in hand, yet never there,
Torn in two by yearning both.
So forever you must wander,
In pale and ghostly form,
Not one nor the other,
But something in between.
Sailor you are doomed,
If land you love as much as sea,
For only one can you have,
The other you must leave.
“There’s more, but that is the essence of it. It’s called ‘Sailors’ Curse.”
“Sailors’ curse?” Tamzin echoed. “But what does this have to do with me?”
“I was getting to that,” Captain Cahler said, a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Your father used to be a merchant sailor, Tamzin.”
“How do you know?” Tamzin interrupted. She felt annoyed that this pirate could claim to know her father, someone Tamzin herself had never met. She herself knew only this about her long-lost father, and treasured it like a piece of gold.
“Because,” the captain continued patiently, fiddling with the gold clasp on his cloak, “he turned pirate, with me.”
“Pirate!” Tamzin gasped. Her hand involuntarily flew to the small pearl around her neck, the only thing she had from her father. “Mama said Father was a respectable sailor; that he drowned!”
“Yes,” the captain’s paw twitched. “Well, that was one Lupe who loved the sea too much. He never wanted to weigh anchor. So, he turned pirate. He enjoyed it much, I’ll tell ye, little girl. He loved the sea, he did. But he also loved yer mother.”
“So, he put up, and went dry. The story goes he couldn’t stand it, though, and finally he made a compromise: he spent half the year on land, half on sea.”
“But, but,” Tamzin protested, feeling lost. “I haven’t seen my father ever!”
“Exactly.” Captain Cahler smiled, but it had no humor in it. “So we must conclude that the pessimists have won this round, and that the ending they give the story is correct: Yom could not stand to live that way anymore, and he threw himself into the sea. Which, to this day, is the cause of the great whirlpool called Sailor’s Straight that sucks so many ships down. It’s ev’ry sailor’s nightmare, it is. Special sort of sailor it takes to throw ‘imself into the sea, too.”
Tamzin stared at the captain in disbelief. “Whirlpool?”
“And so,” the captain continued, as if Tamzin had not said anything, “That brings us to my story. Please just listen, Miss Tamzin, and see what you think of it.
“As you are most likely aware, Sophie the Swamp witch is a very irritable Ixi. I must start with this, because, I am quite sad to say, it is really the whole reason that I have a story at all, and hence the whole reason why you, Miss Tamzin, are sitting before me at this very moment. To continue: my crew and I were visiting the Haunted Woods some years ago, doing a bit of trading.”
“Stealing, more like,” Tamzin said under her breath. The captain sounded rather as if he were straining to carefully enunciate his words, which made her wonder why he bothered. She could feel the rhythmic swaying of the ship, which meant they were sailing. A thin bit of sunlight streamed in through the porthole, and she guessed it must be around five o’clock in the morning.
“I made a small jest, and Sophie became rather angry with me.” The captain’s lips twitched slightly, as though he were trying not to smile. He fiddled with a small compass on the table. “She doused us all in a potion, yelling some strange words in a foreign language. And we found ourselves under a spell. She eventually calmed down somewhat, and explained fully to us what she had done: she had charged us to search for the ‘child of land and sea’, which was the key to unlocking the mysterious Curse of the Sailor’s Straight. She is good, in a way, really. Just terribly ill-tempered,” he added thoughtfully. “Her spell prevented all of us but two, Bartello and Jeremy, from leaving this very ship until we had found this child. Their job was to bring back whoever, or whatever, we found. We have been searching for seven years, young Tamzin. First we brought Sophie a rock, from the exact space where cliff met sea. She was quite annoyed with Bartello, who brought it to her, I think.” The smile was full on Captain Cahler’s mouth now, and in the new sunlight, Tamzin saw a scar stretch across his cheek. “We then brought her a Mortog, which, you might have noticed, can both swim and walk. Sophie was, again, extremely irritated, and threw Jeremy quite some feet. And then,” his smile widened. “I had a stroke of luck: I remembered about Yom. So, here you are.” He gestured at Tamzin. Tamzin sat there for a moment, lost in thought and shock, until the ship abruptly lurched.
“Why me? Why not any other child of a sailor and someone on land?”
“Because, there’s the catch,” Captain Cahler said. “It was your father. So, it had to be you.”
Tamzin didn’t really understand, she had no idea how curses or any other sort of magic worked, having lived on virtually non-magical Krawk Island her whole life, but she said anyway: “So, you’re going to take me to Sophie?”
“Yes,” the captain answered, looking closely at Tamzin.
“But, but you’re a pirate!” Tamzin cried. “How am I supposed to trust you?”
“We haven’t been doing much pirating, mate,” Captain Cahler said irritably. Tamzin noticed his smooth gentlemanly manner sliding away. He sounded more like an irate boy, now. “Stuck on a ship for seven years, remember?”
“Oh.” Tamzin thought about that for a moment. “But what about before then?”
The captain rolled his eyes. “We’re not bloodthirsty pirates, Miss Tamzin,” he said in exasperation. “We only took from the rich, neopets who don’ need it.”
“Oh, fine,” Tamzin snapped abruptly, and then someone banged hard on the door.
“Cap’n! Cap’n, we need ye on deck!” a voice yelled. Captain Cahler jumped up at once, grabbing his hat and stuffing it back on his head.
“Feel free to make yourself comfortable, Miss Tamzin,” he said with a flourish. “Me cabin is yours.” And he hastened out the door, tripping over the doorframe and exclaiming loudly, which rather ruined the effect. Tamzin stared after him, mouth open.
Tamzin spent the next few days wandering about the ship, doing her best to become a proper sailor.
Bart, who was the first mate, she learned, taught her how to tie a sailor’s knot, and how to mend the rat lines. She softened toward the pirate Krawk, despite the fact that he had kidnapped her, after he showed his kindness.
“There’s a knack to it,” he explained, showing her the newly mended rope. “Ye just gotta pull it so...”
But what Tamzin loved the best was sitting up in the crow’s nest. Bart warned her once that if she took one wrong step she could fall straight into the blue sea below, but after that he left her alone to climb as high as she wanted. Tamzin’s love for being up high in the sails startled even herself, though. The first day, she had made up her mind to hate the Pirates’ Curse and the ocean through which it sailed. But she found that she couldn’t. She loved the sea, with its ever-changing hues of blue and green. She loved the Peophins that occasionally leaped out to talk with her, and the little fish that swam next to the boat. She saw a breadfish once, and was amused to find that it somehow managed to stay in one piece.
“It’s yer father comin’ out in ye,” Bart said wisely, when Tamzin told him how much she loved sailing.
“What was my father like?” Tamzin asked, leaning over the Pirates’ Curse’s side to gaze into the water. Bart paused in folding a coil of rope to think.
“He was always the ‘un who liked storms,” he said thoughtfully. “Sailed us through ‘em when the Cap’n’d jus’ sit in ‘is cabin.”
“Yes, but was he tall, was he gloomy, or cheerful?” Tamzin insisted, straightening up to look at Bart. He shrugged.
“A bit gloomy, I think. Best mates wiv the Cap’n, though. Cap’n always liked him, made ‘im Firs’ Mate, an all.”
“Hmmm.” Tamzin returned to her position at the rail, staring hard into the ocean, as though it would spill all of its secrets to a small Lupe girl. Bart went to take his turn at the wheel, leaving Tamzin to gaze into the endless depths of the sea. After a moment, she hastened up the deck to the wheel, where she found Bart leaning lazily on the spikes and surveying the cabin boys, twin green Shoyrus, who were busy scrubbing the deck.
“Bart,” Tamzin gasped breathlessly, holding her skirt, now stiff with salt, above her knees. “Bart, why is this ship called Pirates’ Curse?”
Bart gave her a queer look. “Why d’you ask?” he asked gruffly, tugging at his coat collar.
“I want to know,” Tamzin told him, putting her hands on her hips and tossing her brown curls over her shoulder. “I’ve a right, don’t I?”
“Aye,” Bart agreed reluctantly. “Yer father named ‘er.”
Tamzin blinked in surprise. “Why?” she insisted. “Why did he call the ship that?” something told Tamzin it was important, although she couldn’t guess why.
Bart shrugged uneasily. “’e said she was jus’ that.”
“Just what?” Tamzin’s voice rose shrilly, so that the boy scrubbing the deck looked up. The salty ocean breeze blew softly. Above them, the sails billowed out.
“Just that: pirates’ curse,” Bart answered softly. His blue eyes met Tamzin’s own vivid green ones.
Tamzin stared at him for a moment, and then took off running toward the captain’s cabin. As she ran, she shouted back over her shoulder: “Well, he was wrong; she’s not a curse!”
To be continued...