Pirate Lady: Part Two
“She worries me,” Ari confessed. The tall Gelertess was standing on tip-toe, peering into the mirror above her sink as she struggled with the sash to her brand-new dress. “Oh, bother this stupid thing!”
“I’ll tie it for you,” Errol offered, looking up from the bottle of perfume he had been examining with some interest. The Zafara knight responded to Ari’s glare with a sheepish glance, taking the silk ties in his strong paws.
“This whole thing isn’t right.” Ari bit her lip, staring into the mirror. A pretty but awkwardly tall white Gelertess looked back, clothed in a simple blue tunic-dress with gold lace at the collar, her black hair pinned up above piercing dark eyes. “It’s not right at all.”
“You look lovely,” Errol said anxiously, stepping back to observe his handiwork. The Zafara was in simple tunic and britches of pale colours. But then, he wasn’t going to witness the trial. “The dress suits you.”
“Not the dress,” Ari said in exasperation, spinning around on her tip-toes. “The girl! Tamzin!”
“Oh, what about her?” Errol seemed nonplussed.
“It doesn’t seem at all right to me, how this is happening.” Ari bit her lip, pushing at a stray lock of hair.
“She may be young, but she’s still a criminal,” Errol reminded his friend darkly. He raised his eyebrows at Ari, who let out a puff of air.
“I know, I know. I’m not talking about that; I mean, it’s not right how she’s so cooperative. First of all, if the stories are true, and her little schooner is so fast it can’t be caught by anyone, how did one of our great lugging man-o’-wars, fully loaded, catch her?”
“Schooner?” Errol looked lost. He flinched at Ari’s impatient sigh.
“A small, light ship. Anyway, it doesn’t seem at all right. And why hasn’t she escaped by now? She’s famed for her great escapes. She should be gone!” with these last words, Ari slammed her fist down on the side of the porcelain sink, causing perfume bottles to rattle and a soap bar to jump into the air. Errol followed the soap bar’s example.
“Sorry.” The lady knight sheepishly lowered her fist and straightened the bottles.
“Look, Ari, it’s all going to be all right. But we’re running out of time; you need to get your armour on,” Errol put in pleadingly, casting the soap bar a glare.
Ari blinked, trying to relax. Her fists were clenched tightly against her sides. “Okay, to that awful ceremonial armour.”
Just relax, Ari, she commanded herself as Errol gently helped her on with the pieces. Ari’s squire, Reynold, was having a day off, and the Gelertess hated to disturb him. Relax. It’s all going to be just fine...
“Uh, I was jus’ wonderin’, little Miss, uh, yer not gonna try an’ escape or anythin’, righ’?”
“Why would I do that?” Tamzin stared up at the Skeith guard, much more handsome than the Grarrl, but regrettably no smaller, giving him her most innocent, wide-eyed look as he clumsily unlocked her cell door. The handcuffs dangling from his belt jingled as they clinked together.
“On’y we had a pirate here goin’ on a year ago, an’ he made a run fer it jus’ as soon as I opened this here door, an’ I was wonderin’ what with all the stories and all, if you’s gonna do the same thing.” He looked up nervously, tugging at the edge of his too-small green and gold uniform.
“I cannot imagine why,” Tamzin said sweetly, standing up quickly as the door clanged open. The regular key had taken a lot longer than her straw.
“I thought ‘twas regular pirate-style, like,” the guard mumbled, shrugging in embarrassment. Tamzin frowned slightly, holding up her arms together in front of her. The Skeith stared at them for a long moment as though unsure what they were, before finally clasping their slender wrists with the handcuffs.
They shut with a click that made Tamzin repress a shudder. She’d forgotten how much she hated metal around her wrists. They were meant to be wide apart on a tiller, or grasping the rail, not bound together with cold steel. She felt strangely small and helpless, a new feeling for the invincible Captain Tamzin, and stood up as tall as possible, trying to counteract the effect.
“I mean, he seemed a real pirate, like. An’ he tried to escape. You’s such a little lady, Miss, I jus’ don’ see hows you could be a nasty pirate, like.” The guard stared morosely at Tamzin, who stepped neatly over the threshold of the cell, her bootheels striking the metal sharply. The sound rang out in the otherwise silent dungeon, causing the Skeith to flinch.
“He must have been a very stupid pirate, then,” Tamzin said brightly, “to try that. Because he didn’t escape, did he?” She looked up, and her bright green eyes briefly met the Skeith’s dark ones. They stayed frozen for a moment, locked in each other’s gaze. Then the Skeith turned away, blinking, and Tamzin fell in beside him with a casual, almost jaunty walk, seemingly completely unperturbed.
“So, you have heard the charges, girl, what do you have to say for yourself?” King Hagan’s beady black eyes fixed themselves on Tamzin’s face. The Lupess stood rigidly straight in front of his throne, her hands bound behind her back.
From her place beside King Hagan, Ari shifted nervously. She hated the whole pomp and ceremony of trials, and wished they could be done away with quickly. It bothered her to see Tamzin standing there, looking so helpless. The strong, brave spirit Ari had met in the dungeons should be free, riding the waves, not shackled and dragged back to land. The whole thing reminded her faintly of the old tales of Maraqua, of Caylis and Isca and Jacques and Garin. Only Tamzin was a far better pirate than either of those two could ever be. There was just something about the way she looked and acted, that had nothing to do with the hat or the swordbelt, although admittedly they helped, that proclaimed her sea warrior.
“I have nothing to say, My Lord, except that it was not done for personal benefit. But you already know that.” The pirate’s clear green eyes met those of the king’s, her words startling Ari from her thoughts.
Hagan shrugged uneasily, turning away. The green Skeith looked regal and kingly in his heavily embroidered green-and-gold robes of State, his golden sceptre by his side and his bejewelled crown upon his balding head, but somehow the tiny Lupess seemed to snag everyone’s attention. Her dress and britches were dusty and torn, her long curls matted and tangled. But she had somehow managed to retain her hat, and despite its dusty appearance, its commonplace origin, she wore it like a circlet of gold. That combined with the way she stood, her head slightly tilted, the sharp chin uplifted, green eyes clear, lent her a queenly air Ari would be hard-pressed to find in anyone else. The Gelertess shifted nervously; the air in the gigantic hall was stifling.
“I have a deal to make with you, pirate,” King Hagan said at last, finding his voice again.
Ari stiffened, her hand straying unconsciously to the sword at her side. She forced herself to let go and relax, drawing her attention instead to the rows of Imperial Advisors who lined the walls of the throne room. Despite being many different species and colours, they all looked remarkably the same with their green robes, spectacles, and Book of Justice. They all stood in the same rigid way, staring straight ahead, holding their book in front of them. Ari fidgeted nervously, wishing for the hundredth time that her presence was not required at trials. It was quite stupid in her opinion for the King’s Champion to attend all state functions at his elbow, rather than, say, taking care of other important business, but that was tradition for you.
“A deal,” King Hagan said again, watching Tamzin’s face carefully for any sign. The Lupess’ features betrayed no evidence of emotion, however. She stared straight ahead, chin up, shoulders back. “A full Pardon, no questions asked; and a Letter of Marque.”
Tamzin finally blinked, a slow movement, her long, dark lashes brushing against her strikingly pale cheeks. Ari stiffened once more. A full Royal Pardon? What was the king playing at?
“The catch, Sire?” Tamzin’s tone was as unreadable as her stolid features. The Chief Advisor looked up sharply. The red Wocky was tall and reed-thin, with just the hint of a moustache, but his look, much like Tamzin’s, could pierce granite.
“’Tis not a catch, girl, but an exchange. A trade, if you will,” King Hagan replied languidly. “And you can be sure we will both be satisfied.” The monarch waved a be-ringed hand idly, causing Ari to duck slightly to avoid being slapped in the face. The Gelertess’ cheeks felt warm as she straightened back up. To be humiliated this way in front of all of the Advisors, and by completely innocent means, no less.
“But you are right to ask,” Hagan continued. He gazed into the distance, staring straight through one of the hall’s many magnificent stained-glass windows. This particular one depicted a heroic Lupe knight standing over his fallen enemy, an evil-looking pirate Elephante. How fitting, Ari thought, wincing. No-one seemed to have noticed Hagan’s ill-timed hand swinging, and for that she was grateful.
“My only request is this: you will work for me. For adequate pay, of course, and protection under me. A Letter of Marque; you will be a privateer in the employ of Brightvale. All I ask is a few... special jobs... in return.”
There was silence for a long moment after King Hagan finished speaking. The only sound was the ragged breathing of Advisors rapidly approaching heatstroke. A bead of sweat slid down Ari’s cheek.
“What choice do I have?” the question was rhetorical, and delivered with considerable sarcasm. Tamzin shrugged. “I’ll work for you.”
“Excellent, excellent.” The spell seemed to be broken as King Hagan beamed down upon the tiny Lupess. “Unbind her.” He waved his hand, and immediately a Skeith guard was beside Tamzin, the key clicking in the handcuffs’ lock. Ari shifted, and her eyes met those of the pirate girl’s. Pale green met deep-brown, and held for a second. Ari looked away first, her brow furrowing at what she saw in the cool depths of Tamzin’s eyes.
To be continued...