Pirate Curse: Part Two
“That’s it, lovie.”
Tamzin stared until her eyes grew blurry at the mass of churning bubbles twenty metres away, her hands gripping the rail so hard her knuckles went white through her soft blue fur. Captain Cahler gave her a wry grin. “That’s the Sailors’ Straight. Get wiv’in ten metres, and yer ship’s a goner.”
Tamzin watched the water leap about as though it had a life of its own, splashing against the sheer cliffs that enclosed it on either side. The wind blew stiffly, rocking the Pirates’ Curse this way and that as all about them the crew struggled to turn the ship.
“Every sailor, pirate and merchant alike,” Captain Cahler said slowly, “used t’ go through that Straight. Eleven years ago.”
Tamzin blinked and returned her gaze to the pirate captain. “How will we get around it?” she asked, a small edge of fear creeping into her voice. Captain Cahler stared past her, his eyes unfocused.
“We go left,” he said at last. “As fortune would have it, the Haunted Woods are not that way. Many sailors have been pulled into the whirlpool, foolishly trying to get past it.”
“How-how would you get around it, then?” Tamzin stammered, her eyes wide with fear. The Pirates’ Curse let out a loud moan as it slowly turned in the water. She could hear Bart shouting orders.
“The long way, Miss Tamzin,” Captain Cahler told her, his eyes flickering with something like amusement. “’round the Long Channel, all way past Neopia Central.”
“All clear, Captain, sir!” Bart shouted, hurrying to their side.
“Good. I shall take the wheel now. Good day, Miss Tamzin.” He lifted his hat in a flourishing gesture to Tamzin, who resisted the urge to roll her eyes at the return of the Lupe’s gentlemanly manner, and then set off toward the wheel.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” Bart said musingly, his gaze following Tamzin’s to the giant whirlpool.
“Frightening,” Tamzin told him, laughing. She shook her brown curls back and slowly tied them with a scrap of velvet Jeremy had given her.
“We’ll reach the Haunted Woods by tomorrow,” Bart offered suddenly. He fidgeted with the ruffle on his shirt collar. “Then ye can break the Curse and go home.”
“Yes, Mum will be so worried,” Tamzin said absently.
“Not too much, Miss,” Bart said, rather eagerly. “I wrote her a letter, see.”
“A letter?” Tamzin turned toward him, her amusement showing in her green eyes. “How would you know how to write a letter to a mother?”
“Weel, I had one once,” Bart said, looking affronted. “I told her that we’d be borrowin’ ye, an’ we’d bring ye back safe ‘n sound, an’ not t’ worry.”
Tamzin blinked. “Did you have a sister, or a brother?” she asked with interest. She’d never thought of any of the pirates having a family. Although, come to think of it, it was rather silly not to have.
“Me brother, Jeremy,” Bart said. The ship was picking up speed now, sailing smoothly through the waters, her prow straight up. Tamzin could hear Captain Cahler shouting: “Let out the sails, men! Let her run!” She mentally berated herself for not figuring out that Jeremy and Bart were brothers. They certainly gave enough clues.
“An’ a sister,” continued Bart. “Lily. I used te’ visit ‘em.” He got a faraway look on his face. Then he turned to Tamzin. “How come ye lived on Krawk Island, if yer a Lupe?”
“Mum liked it,” Tamzin answered. “I suppose she wanted to be near the sea, because my father loved it so much,” she added, suddenly realizing it.
“Ye look a lot like him,” Bart told her. “Blue Lupe, ‘e was.”
“Do I?” Tamzin said vaguely. She was wondering what exactly Sophie was going to do to break this Curse.
“Aye.” Bart nodded. “Ye’ve got his eyes: green, they were, like the sea.”
Suddenly Tamzin was interested. “Aren’t all blue Lupes’ and Lupesses’ eyes green?”
“Nay.” Bart shook his head, the ghost of a grin on his face. “Yer eyes are uncommon odd, missy. What made ye think that?”
“I’ve never seen another blue Lupe,” Tamzin said truthfully, fiddling with her locket. “Lupes aren’t common on Krawk Island: I’ve only ever seen three others, red, and my Mum’s brown.”
Bart nodded. “I used t’ love Krawk Island,” he said. “Me whole family was Krawks, o’ course.” He gestured at himself. “Jus’ plain white, but happy, all t’ same.”
“Yes,” Tamzin nodded in agreement. “It’s nice there.”
“Storm coming!” someone yelled suddenly. Tamzin, looking up, saw Verick, a large brown Yurble, clinging to the crow’s nest. “Cap’n!”
“Get below deck,” Bart said suddenly, looking fearfully up at the sky. “This don’ look good.”
“I’ll help us get through,” Tamzin insisted, but Bart pushed her toward the stairs.
“Hurry,” he urged. “This storm’ll hit sooner than ye know.”
Tamzin reluctantly started toward the stairway, but a sudden gust of wind caught her off balance and sent her sliding down the deck. She yelled and reached out to grab the railing. A sailor grabbed her and shouted in her ear, “Get below deck, Miss!”
Tamzin reached out, struggling along, but the wind grew fiercer. Waves churned below them, turning the once pleasant afternoon into a dark hollow of doom. Rain began to fall, pelting Tamzin with heavy drops. Tamzin yelled as a wave of water rushed up at them, seeming as though it would swallow the whole ship. The Pirates’ Curse lurched up, and up, tilting so far that for a moment, Tamzin thought she might flip. Barrels, ropes, and pets flew past Tamzin, who clutched the rail harder.
“Tie down ev’ything loose!” she heard Captain Cahler yell.
“Furl the sails, men!”
Tamzin ducked her head, trying to avoid the relentless rain. It blurred her vision, preventing her from seeing anything but blobs of color. She thought she saw Bart run past her, but she couldn’t be sure of anything anymore. The Pirates’ Curse was letting out such loud moan, and listing so sharply to starboard, that Tamzin was sure she’d sprung a leak, but no one else seemed to notice. A pirate, probably Verick, hastened past her, his arms over his face, and made a running jump into the billowing black sails. And then the ship smashed hard into something. For a moment, all was perfectly still. Then, the Pirates’ Curse gave a violent shudder. Tamzin heard something splinter, and then the ship jerked forward in one last convulsive movement, like a dying petpet, and everything was still. Tamzin crouched on the deck, hands over her head, terrified. Wind and rain beat down on her, and she squeezed her eyes shut, willing it all to be just a dream. She felt icy salt spray hit her, and her teeth chattered with the cold.
“Well, what a magnificent arrival,” Tamzin heard Captain Cahler cry, his tone full of buoyancy. Shivering, Tamzin crawled slowly out from between two split open barrels leaking an amber coloured liquid that smelled suspiciously like grog. She staggered upright, and looked around. The ship was leaning at a precarious angle, her starboard side jammed up hard against a sheer cliff of black rock, her bow just brushing a sandy beach. Ahead of her, Tamzin could see the Haunted Woods looming up, large and dark and foreboding, despite the brilliant orange and pink sunset behind it. The sun turned the water that lay an inch deep on the deck into a sparkling mass of orange and rosy pink, and looking at it, Tamzin suddenly understood about magic. Not the sort Captain Cahler always talked about, potions and curses and all that stuff, but a different, deeper sort: the magic of how simple seawater could turn to a thousand sparkling stars with only the help of a setting sun.
Tamzin glanced up as Bart shouted her name, and found that her teeth were chattering with cold. The sun had slid behind the mountains in that instant, and everything was now the bruised purple and black of darkness.
“Tamzin, ye be all right?” Bart asked in concern, offering Tamzin a raggedy shawl. She took it gratefully.
“Y-y-yes, I’m fine,” she assured him, trying to wring out her hair.
“Ye’re all wet,” Bart said, stating the obvious. He too was wet: soaked from his above-the-knee britches to the short fringe of hair that hung in his eyes.
They both turned at the captain’s cheerful bellow, to find him striding toward them. His neat red fur, as well as every bit of clothes, was soaked, and Tamzin saw water in the brim of his hat. Yet, Tamzin had never seen him in better spirits, and he beamed at them as he approached.
“Miss Tamzin!” he practically shouted, clapping her so hard on the back that she stumbled forward. “I wondered where ye’d got to!”
Tamzin bit back a sarcastic reply with some difficulty.
“Looks like we’ll be spending the night onboard; the Haunted Woods are not the place ye want to be at night,” Captain Cahler said, a slight frown replacing his smile. Tamzin noticed how it made his scar more visible in the nearly-gone light.
“Is the Pirates’ Curse much damaged?” Tamzin asked. A chill wind had started to blow, and she didn’t like the amount the ship creaked and moaned in it.
“Aye, she is,” Captain Cahler said. His frown deepened. “She’ll need a good deal o’ fixin’ up before we can sail again, but I’ve no doubt Sophie will be some time in ‘undoing’ the Curse.”
At the mention of the mysterious Curse, Tamzin shivered slightly, something that had nothing to do with the cold. After a moment, Captain Cahler said:
“Ye should be gettin’ dry, Tamzin; ye look mighty cold. Is there anythin’ I can provide?”
“Oh, no thank you,” Tamzin answered sweetly. “You’ve already given me your cabin, what else can I ask for?”
“Aye, that’s true,” Captain Cahler agreed, although he looked as though he would rather like to rescind this generous gift.
“You are such a gentleman,” Tamzin said, quite innocently, as she swept off. Captain Cahler looked as surprised as if someone had slapped him.
“Why, Miss Tamzin, coming from you – ”
“ – For a pirate,” she finished. And with a last regal wave, she hurried toward the cabin, stifling her laughter.
Despite having dry clothes (“It fetches a pretty price, does lady clothes, so don’ give me that dirty look, Miss Tamzin!”), and clean hair (“I’m not going to go around like some dirty pirate!”), Tamzin found it hard to sleep that night. She lay in the captain’s own bed, under the velvet bedclothes, and imagined how it would be tomorrow, when the journey finally came to an end. Would she miss the Pirates’ Curse, a ship whom she’d come to love, and its crew? Would she miss the deep, mysterious ocean on which she’d spent so much time? Tamzin could not even decide if she would be happy to return to Krawk Island and her mother. Of course she would be glad, but what would she say? Could she write a letter? And what if she had to explain to her mother that, like her father, Tamzin simply could not live without the sea? She imagined writing a letter:
I am so sorry to have worried you, I love you ever so much. Pirates have kidnapped me, to break the curse my father inflicted upon the ocean, and are bringing me to the infamous Haunted Woods, to the infamous Swamp Witch, Sophie. I am quite well, Mum, except for the fact that the captain of this ship is undoubtedly mad, and I don’t care, I have fallen in love with the ocean, and I think pirates are quite all right.
Right. Her mother would be overjoyed reading that. Her mother hated pirates. Tales of evil Captain Scarblade had frequented Tamzin’s growing up. But, then, was that just because Tamzin’s father, who had chosen the sea over his family, had been a pirate?
Tamzin couldn’t stop the endless flow of questions that entered her brain, and added to it was the fact that, now on solid land, the Pirates’ Curse no longer swayed with the rhythm of the ocean, and it disturbed her. For a while, Tamzin tried answering the question, but an answer only brought on two hundred more questions, until she felt quite sure she would drown in words. She fell asleep, thinking of how words might suffocate her, one hand gripping the pearl around her neck.
Tamzin was woken by a sharp rapping on her door, and Bart’s yell of: “Tamzin! Wake up, we be goin’ ashore!”
She blinked herself fully awake and stumbled out of bed, hearing the first mate’s receding footsteps. She dressed as fast as she could, and pulled her long brown curls into a neat plait, tied with a scrap of velvet. Then she hastened out of the cabin, eager to see the Haunted Woods in daylight, having never been off of Krawk Island before.
On deck, pets were hurrying to and fro, some of them throwing sacks of supplies down onto the beach, others trying to eat.
“”Ere, eat this quick.”
The ship’s cook, a harried-looking gold Shoyru, stuffed a biscuit into Tamzin’s hand, then ran past, letting out a despairing yell of: “No, not the berries!”
Tamzin took a small bite as she walked to where Bart was motioning furiously.
“We be goin’ ashore!” he shouted over the mayhem. Someone had thrown a rope ladder over the side, and some of the crew had already descended. Bart pulled Tamzin close as pets surged around them, preventing her from getting trampled. Once, Tamzin would have resented this gesture, now she only felt happy that someone cared for her. It gave her a queer feeling to be held to the pirate Krawk, how she imagined having a father would feel.
The crowd in front of the ladder parted, then, and Tamzin stepped up. She swung her legs over the side, feeling for the rough touch of the rope ladder. She found it and descended easily, jumping off onto the soft sand of the Haunted Wood’s beach.
“Ah, thar ye are.”
Captain Cahler strode toward Tamzin purposefully. He wore what Tamzin guessed to be his best coat, and someone had put a large feather in his hat. His dark eyes shone with excitement as he approached her.
“This be the best day of my life,” he said seriously. “And o’ yours, too. Ye’ll be goin’ home after this, missy. With proper comp-en-say-shon, o’ course,” he added, quickly.
It took Tamzin a minute to figure this one out.
“Oh, you mean you’ll give me something?”
“Aye, for yer cooperation, it bein’ our fault ye be hauled away from home,” Captain Cahler agreed, sounding for a moment almost abashed. “Gold, jewels, whatever pleases ye.”
“Well, in that case, I shall take...” It gave Tamzin some satisfaction to see a look of fear cross the Lupe’s handsome face as she paused for dramatic effect. Typical pirate, she thought scornfully. “...a hat. That one.” She pointed to the one he was wearing. To her surprise, he lifted it off his head at once with a flourish, making a mock bow. He looked almost relieved.
“Here you are.” He handed it to her, and Tamzin was about to reply when something struck her.
“I thought you couldn’t leave the ship?”
“Ah.” The captain practically beamed, and Tamzin had a distinct feeling he had been waiting for someone to mention this fact. “I didn’t, clever girl.” He lifted one booted foot, gesturing grandly. Tamzin stared at the bottom of it, to which a long strip of wood had been nailed.
“See? I’m on the ship, technically. I’ve told everyone to do it.” He looked so full of conceit and self-pride, that for a moment Tamzin wanted to slap him. Her feelings were not much helped by the fact that he turned, cupped his hands around his mouth, and shouted: “Jeremy, a new hat, if you will!”
The pirate Krawk came running, carrying a large plumed hat. It was not quite so fine as the one Captain Cahler had given to Tamzin, which made her slightly mollified. The Captain was such a show-off.
With the hat firmly on his head, Captain Cahler turned, cupping his paws around his mouth, and shouted: “All here?!”
An answering chorus of ‘ayes’ filled the dull, foggy air. Tamzin glanced about her uneasily. In front of her, a crowd of pirates consisting of a yellow Eyrie, one of the green Shoyru cabin boys, and Jeremy had gathered. There was nothing particularly alarming about them, if you didn’t count the fact that they were pirates, but a dark woods was to their right, and in the distance on her left, she saw the famous Brain Tree glowing dimly.
“Nothin’ to worry about,” Bart assured her, suddenly appearing at her side. He gave her a friendly grin, and Tamzin relaxed slightly. “I been visitin’ the Haunted Woods fer years, ‘an there’s really nothin’ to worry about.”
Tamzin nodded, wishing the warm glow of sunlight that lit the Pirates’ Curse extended to the beach. Even the sand felt cold and clammy when she bent down to touch it, nothing like the warm, dry sand of Krawk Island.
“We’ve got our party, Mr. Bartello.”
Captain Cahler was back, with the chosen pets behind him.
“We’ll be going into the woods, of course,” the captain added. Tamzin saw the Shoyru’s eyes go wide. Bart, however, only nodded calmly. Captain Cahler turned and marched purposefully up the beach, toward the forest. The rest of the small party followed, somewhat apprehensively. Tamzin took a deep breath as they paused at the edge of the woods. Some small, scrawny trees marked the entrance, but Tamzin couldn’t see any deeper for lack of light.
“In we go,” Captain Cahler called out cheerfully. They straggled slowly forward. The woods were utterly silent. There was no noise whatsoever, and barely any light, either. The crunch of the crew’s boots could be heard plainly as they snapped twigs and slapped the dirt. Tamzin didn’t realize she was clutching Bart’s arm until the First Mate carefully loosened her fingers. He caught her looking and chuckled.
“Yer gonna make me arm go numb,” he explained. Tamzin let go, embarrassed.
“I see something!”
Someone called out, a shrill, young voice. Tamzin thought it must be the Shoyru, and as she got closer, she saw she was right. The young cabin boy stood stalk still, staring at the small village in the clearing. There was a great deal of muttering as the Eyrie, Brem Tamzin remembered he was called, moved forward, his face impassive.
“Neovia,” he pronounced, his voice deep and calm, without a hint of pirate accent. Tamzin wondered how long he had been with the crew of the Pirates’ Curse, or with any pirate ship, for that matter. It couldn’t have been more than a year, at most.
“Just so,” Captain Cahler agreed. He sounded impatient, but Brem took no notice.
“Perhaps we should stop for a bit? I hear the place is quite friendly nowadays,” he suggested. The Shoyru nodded vigorously, but Bart spoke up.
“Nay, friends, we best be gettin’ on. These woods don’ stay light for long.”
Light? Tamzin wasn’t sure you could count the dim florescence that made it just possible to see as light, but she didn’t argue. Instead, she nervously smoothed down her curls, grown unruly with the salty air, and stayed silent.
“I’m with the First Mate,” Captain Cahler said. His voice didn’t sound very cheerful anymore, and his face was wary.
“Captain speaks,” Jeremy mumbled. “All in favour say Aye.”
A grumbling chorus of ‘ayes’ sounded, and the captain nodded sharply.
“We go on.”
To be continued...