The Quetzal Ring
Captain Amphos the shadow Zafara watched as the few remaining containers were taken onto his charge, a beautiful Altadorian galley named the Siyana. She was being loaded up to for her routine voyage to Shenkuu and her first officer was shouting out orders to her crew. Amphos was proud to be the captain of the Siyana. She was one of those ships that ruled supreme over the others, despite her size and humble occupation. She might not have been one of the great warships which stood guard over the harbour but she was a noble vessel, with a noble purpose: spreading the wealth of Altador and wealth was no good unless spread. Her hull had the sleek, powerful grace of a delphin and it culminated in a delicate wooden ship figure of Siyana herself, looking out from under the bow, and seeming to bathe in the salty spray from the waves. The Faerie’s figure searched out any evil with her gaze, banishing it before it could cross the ship's path. The sails were like the wings of a white Weewoo, with the Altadorian crest, a golden sun, painted on them, and when a breeze picked up, they unfurled like true wings and carried the ship to faraway lands. Only in the sea her full beauty and grace was revealed and she became truly majestic.
"Captain, we have finished loading the cargo!" the first officer shouted. Despite the sudden interruption of his musings, Amphos couldn't hold back a delighted smile. Soon they would be out to sea and away from the confining rigidity of dry land.
"Thank you, Mr. Inlis. We sail as soon as the tide turns. However, I will have to go and ask the harbourmaster to log our departure," Amphos said and went to the harbourmaster's office. It was a short walk and there was a strong seaward wind sweeping across the dock. It was a perfect day to leave the harbour on a long voyage. Nothing could down Amphos's spirits... but for an unpleasant whiney voice that he heard while walking along the pier.
"Hello, Captain Amphos. I understand that you are sailing soon," the voice said, sounding annoyed, as if Amphos was planning to sail straight into a storm or wreck the ship on the nearest reef, rather than take her on a routine voyage to Shenkuu. It belonged to the Siyana's owner, a green Skeith called Kahus. He was fatter than most Skeiths and certainly grumpier. Kahus had a metallic smell around him which was rumoured to come from his hoards of money; money which was earned for him by Amphos and his crew, and the crews of a few other ships Kahus owned. Amphos barely restrained a scowl. A greedy neopet like Kahus didn't deserve the Siyana.
"Yes sir, we are going to sail as soon as the tide turns. I was just going to the harbourmaster to ask him to log our departure," Amphos said with cold politeness. All he wanted was to get away from the metallic smell and the unnaturally big body, which seemed to fill all the available space, leaving him no air to breathe. Amphos thought: 'One wrong move and Kahus could easily crush my slim frame.'
"Make sure you look after the cargo! I don't want anything happening to it!" the Skeith bellowed as he moved on to oversee his other ships, taking away the tangy smell of metal. Amphos breathed a sigh of relief. His hatred for Kahus was only restrained by the Siyana. Sighing, he walked across the dock to the harbourmaster's office.
He knocked on the harbourmaster's door. A gentle old voice mumbled something inside and Amphos took that as a permission to come in. The harbourmaster's office was tidy as usual, and the sharp smell of ink in it sometimes pierced the pungent fragrance of the sea. In the centre of the room, sitting behind a carved wooden desk, was the harbourmaster himself, an old blue Lenny with wizened features and silvery streaks in his feathers. On his right wing, on the largest primary feather, he was wearing a gold signet ring with a pattern that the Zafara couldn't see. The Lenny looked up from his writing as Amphos entered the room, his eyes smiling from behind his glasses.
"Ah, Amphos, captain of the Siyana if I'm not mistaken. What brings you to my humble office?" the harbourmaster asked Amphos kindly. He had that knowing look in his eyes as if he already guessed what the Zafara was going to ask him.
"Harbourmaster, we wish to sail as soon as the tide turns. I have come here to ask you to log our departure from the harbour," Amphos told the harbourmaster.
"And so I will log it, Captain Amphos. May Hydria watch over you," the old harbourmaster said. Amphos quietly smiled to himself. The old harbourmaster said that to every captain leaving the harbour and some of them wondered if he was getting too old to hold the position. Sometimes, Amphos almost agreed with them.
"Thank you, harbourmaster," Amphos said respectfully as he turned and left the small space of the harbourmaster's office to go back to the Siyana, awaiting the tide.
Several hours later, the Siyana sailed out of the Altadorian harbour, bound for Shenkuu. Amphos watched his crew scuttle about her like crabletts on a beach. He smiled as the sea breeze ruffled his fur and his navy-blue cloak billowed out, as if trying to imitate the majesty of the sails. This was what the Siyana was meant to do: cut through the waves, trapping the slightest wind in her sails, driving herself forward to her goal. Several wild Airax screeched above Amphos' head, wheeling and diving into the sea, coming out with silver glint of fish in their beaks. The Siyana rose and fell with the waves, racing the delphins that rode her bow wave, her great oars moving in perfect synchrony with each other. Amphos breathed in the salty air, savouring the sea's taste, so familiar and wonderful. He looked over the water surface that was littered, like diamonds, with sun reflections. The wave summits rose and fell like mountains, if indeed mountains could be created and destroyed at such speed.
Amphos suddenly snapped out of his daydream as he glimpsed a strange wave to starboard. It looked like a Hydruplit's tail except that it had a flimsy-looking fin-like crest perched on it. Amphos wouldn't have noticed it at all if it weren't for the bruised, dark lavender colour of the wave, contrasting strangely with the pure azure of the ocean. He paused in indecision. What if this was dangerous to his ship and crew? However, he soon dismissed the notion. There was nothing living in the Altadorian seas which could present danger to a ship as large as the Siyana. All the marine giants lurked around the ruins of Maraqua or in the waters of Tyrannia, with a few patrolling the coast of Geraptiku. Besides, neither Mr. Inlis nor any of his crew had noticed it. It must have been a figment of his imagination. He soon forgot the strange wave.
So far, the voyage was going well. The weather was perfect, with a westerly breeze, and the sun was climbing higher and higher into the azure sky. The lookouts did report some clouds in their path but it was nothing serious, just a few drops of rain. All in all, a routine journey - until the Siyana lurched to the side as if she had struck a rock. Amphos rushed towards the source of the impact but stopped in his tracks. A great head rose out of the sea, dripping water all over the deck, leaving slimy trails all over the planks. Amphos stared in horror, recognising what it was: a Maraquan Quetzal of unnatural size. He had seen much smaller ones swimming around the waters of Mystery Island but never one so huge, and so near Altador. Its maroon feathers were spaced very closely together and each one was as big as the Siyana's beakhead. This Quetzal could easily crush the ship, wrapping it in enormous coils. Amphos was sure that it was going to do just that.
His shock didn't last long. Amphos yelled for everyone to take battle stations and grab whatever weapons they could use against the Quetzal. He dashed for his cabin to get his sword. He heard the fight start, muffled as it was, and urgently wished to help the desperate crew save the Siyana but had to take his weapon first. He burst into his cabin breathless, knowing that every precious second counted. His eyes dashed around the room, looking for the familiar glint of steel. He hardly ever needed to use it, so it could be anywhere around the room. Suddenly, something on his desk caught the sun. It was his sword, clean and ready for battle. Thanking his good luck and foresight, Amphos grabbed it and ran out onto the deck in frenzy. He couldn't let the Siyana go down. She was the only thing in the world that was precious to him.
The deck was in havoc. The Quetzal was ripping off the planks with its gargantuan beak, exposing the hold and cabins to the wind and sea spray. The Siyana shook as each plank was torn loose, making everyone onboard unstable on their feet. Amphos grabbed for a rail as he felt the anger bubble up inside him like lava. Why would this Quetzal attack them, without any provocation?! He rushed at the creature waving his sword, blinded by his rage, but the Quetzal was quicker. It moved away its great head and almost seemed to mock Amphos as he cut through the empty air and stumbled. The creature lifted its tail out of the water, as if showing off, and Amphos froze. He recognised the wave he saw not so long ago. He was such a fool not to say anything then! Now, because of him, they were all doomed.
The Quetzal ploughed its seemingly fragile tail through the starboard side, smashing the oars and throwing all the crew onto the deck, dazed and stunned as the Siyana pitched dangerously. After the Quetzal had dealt its blow, a hole wider than Kahus was gouged out the ship, like a giant bite. It was mere luck that it was above the waterline, though the rocking ship was still scooping up water. Amphos' rage was dulled by sadness. Even if they got away from the Quetzal and Kahus paid for repairs, the Siyana would be in dry dock for a long time. Who knew when she would glide again over the waves, carrying him to faraway places. After a brief pause, the Quetzal struck the figurehead, and Amphos's anger came back. If this Quetzal was going to take his livelihood away, he was going to try and defend her as much as possible. He picked up his sword and rushed at the rampaging Quetzal. Suddenly, the Quetzal turned around, and Amphos found himself looking into its eyes.
Amphos was instantly transfixed and his sword clattered to the ground helplessly. Those eyes were bluer than the Maraquan seas and more understanding than the eyes of a mother. There was none of the expected savagery nor was there any malice, just a kind, intelligent look that was pleading for forgiveness, as if it was sorry to destroy the Siyana. Amphos wished that the Quetzal could talk and share its story but the creature broke the gaze and lunged at Amphos with its head. He only just managed to duck and felt a rush of air as the Quetzal's feather-like growths flew over him and its head struck the mainmast, the cruel beak gouging away at the wood like a woodcutter.
With a great crack, the mast gave in.
He sensed the ship shudder violently as the mainmast broke free from the Siyana and the Quetzal threw the now useless piece of wood into the sea, as an athlete might throw a javelin. Amphos clutched his long ears and lay down on a deck, shaking with it and knowing that at any moment, the Quetzal would coil around the Siyana and crush her. However, this terrible moment never came. He opened his eyes just to glimpse the Quetzal's head above him, its eyes once again asking for an apology. A mighty splash then rang out across the ocean as the Quetzal dived back into the depths.
When Amphos could finally stand up, he found the Siyana to be little more than a collection of ordered but broken wood, floating with the current. The mainmast was toppled and lost to the hungry waves, while the enormous hole that the Quetzal had smashed in the starboard side exposed the cargo to the ravages of the wind and waves. High waves were already breaching the hold, threatening to slowly sink the ship and her crew. He dusted some sharp splinters off his tunic, watching them fall onto the deck like wooden rain. They couldn't go on to Shenkuu without a sail and with a gaping hole in the hull. He could already smell the cargo starting to rot, exposed to the water and heat of the tropical sun. The Quetzal made sure they would return. He cursed that creature for turning the glorious Siyana in a pile of driftwood, with hardly any steering left to protect her from the currents. Once he got back to the Altadorian harbour, he would appeal to the harbourmaster to have that menace driven away or killed. He shouted his order to use the remaining oars to row back to Altador for repairs and, he silently added, revenge.
It seemed to take forever but at last the familiar docks of the Altadorian harbour welcomed the wounded Siyana to a home where she would be protected from storms and malevolent beasts. Amphos stood on what was left of the bow and was surprised at the looks that he got from the sailors in the harbour. Instead of the expected horror and sadness, he received relieved and happy gazes from everyone, as if he was a visiting king and not a defeated captain coming back on a damaged ship. However, Amphos' biggest surprise came when he was greeted by the breathless harbourmaster who came as fast as his legs and age would permit. It took a long time for him to recover his breath but finally he spoke.
"Captain Amphos... I am... so glad to... see you here... alive and... unhurt!" the harbourmaster exclaimed, still puffing slightly. "We have received reports of a terrible tropical storm raging directly in your path. I'm glad you decided to turn back before something happened to you and your..." he spoke no more as he regarded the Siyana's hulk that was already being unloaded of cargo, or what was left of it. The harbourmaster finally recovered his senses. "I see you did run into the storm. You are lucky to be alive." Amphos scowled.
"We didn't run into any storm, harbourmaster. The Siyana was attacked by a rampaging Maraquan Quetzal, which we didn't provoke, or even scratch as we were trying to defend our ship! We were lucky it didn't sink us!" Amphos said with barely restrained rage, expecting the harbourmaster to feel the same. But instead, the harbourmaster smiled mysteriously.
"So Hydria did protect you after all! She forced you to turn back thus saving you from the storm. This is... amazing! Captain, you must come to my office immediately!" the harbourmaster cheered, his normally age-weary eyes sparkling like two suns. Suddenly, Amphos was hit by realisation, which could have been sooner, had he not been blinded by rage. The Quetzal wasn't acting out of malice but because it - she - had no other choice. He smiled as he remembered those gentle eyes which looked out of place on a malevolent beast but perfectly suited a protector. Indeed, she was every bit as much a protector as Jerdana or Marak. As he turned to follow the harbourmaster, Kahus came stomping down the pier and knocked the poor Lenny out of the way, not caring if the harbourmaster landed on the hard wood or fell into the sea. Kahus rushed at Amphos, looking worried but Amphos was sure that it wasn't anything to do with his welfare. His suspicions were soon proved as Kahus opened his mouth.
"Is my cargo safe? Is everything fine with the cargo? Have you unloaded it all yet? If you didn't, Captain, you can find yourself another job. You should be sailing to Shenkuu, not enjoying yourself in the harbour while I grow poor!" he whined as if the whole of Neopia revolved around him and his cash. Amphos nearly exploded in rage.
"Listen sir! We came back because your ship was barely able to stay afloat, let alone continue with the week-long voyage to Shenkuu! The entire crew could have been lost at sea if we went ahead like nothing had happened! If you cared so much about your precious cargo, you wouldn't be whining here but arranging for a shipbuilder to start the repairs! I'm sure your vast riches will easily cover for them," Amphos shouted as he helped the harbourmaster up. The old Lenny was thankfully unscathed and he led Amphos back to his office, leaving the dazed Kahus behind. Neither of them saw him shake his head as if clearing it and sending for a courier Yooyu to relay a message to the best shipbuilder and carpenter in Altador.
By the time they reached the harbourmaster's office, Amphos was sure that the harbourmaster was not injured, as he was almost running, as full of energy as the wild wind that carried the sail ships away from the harbour. The old Lenny sat down behind his desk beckoning Amphos to sit down as well. Amphos was bursting with questions and it seemed to be a good time to ask.
"How did a Quetzal end up so far from Geraptiku?" he asked as soon as he had sat down. "Sir," he hastily added, remembering his manners. To his relief the harbourmaster took no notice of the delayed formality.
"Hydria was the petpet of Marak, who lived off the Coast of Mystery Island before he came to Altador. She moved here with him but she was terribly homesick and as a result, for distraction, she began to eat so much that she grew to an enormous size. Marak, with a heavy heart, exiled her from his clan's Altadorian home, knowing that she was a threat if she stayed. Hydria was distraught at losing her friend and master. She wanted to win back his favour and ever since then, she had been protecting the ships of Altador, doing all that she possibly could to avert disaster, like she did with you," the harbourmaster said, with the air of a storyteller by the campfire in ancient Neopia talking to a group of enthralled children as his audience. Amphos could only nod thoughtfully as he listened to Hydria's story. She wasn't a monster after all, as he suspected all along. Meanwhile, the harbourmaster slipped the signet ring off his primary feather and for the first time ever, Amphos could see the engraving clearly. It was a delicately carved Quetzal with amethyst eyes and beneath it were rows of sapphires arranged in a zigzag pattern, representing waves. Amphos stifled a gasp as he appreciated the delicate but bold craftsmanship of the ring. The smooth lines reminded him of the Siyana. The harbourmaster quietly regarded Amphos taking in the artwork.
"Captain Amphos, you have seen Hydria for yourself. I thought you worthy knowing about of her existence and history but now I have to come to the point. Will you accept the Signet of Hydria, for safekeeping? I am growing old and haven't been to sea for ages now, so it isn't right for me to carry it anymore," the harbourmaster asked with a note of tenseness in his voice. Amphos was speechless. If he had known that a routine voyage would end like this, he would have never set off or at least waited for a better time. However, now he felt the responsibility to protect Hydria from angry captains, like himself a while ago. It was the least he could do to thank the creature for saving the Siyana and his crew.
"I would be more than happy to, sir. It will be an honour for me to represent Hydria with captains of Altador," he replied almost immediately. The harbourmaster smiled and placed the ring in Amphos' hand, nodding as if to say 'it's yours now'. Amphos gratefully took the ring and put it onto his finger, amazed that it fit perfectly. He stood up to walk towards the door but stopped, looking at the harbourmaster anxiously. The old Lenny, however, was now lost in some paperwork, not noticing Amphos. Amphos took that as an excuse to leave.
As he heard the soft clunk of the door behind him, his pride spread out throughout him, filling every part of his body like water. Captain Amphos, Signet-Bearer of Hydria, the new title echoed in his head. Yes, he thought, it had a beautiful ring to it. He walked back to the piers, his fur shining like obsidian in the bright sun. He couldn't wait until the Siyana was repaired and he would go to sea again and maybe even glimpse the cyan fin and lavender body of his saviour.
Thank you to max_frei again for proof reading and thank you also to ssjelitegirl for enlightening me about ships.
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