Pirate Lady: Part Three
Tamzin stared around the interior of the room they had given her, holding her robe tightly around herself. It adjoined a smaller washroom and also a quaint little study, both pleasantly furnished in maroon and dark wood. After a hot bath to scrub the dungeon grime from her fur, Tamzin was now free to examine her quarters, the smell of vanilla-scented soap still lingering in her nose. After a second, the Lupess padded toward the cherry-coloured wardrobe, and pulled open the doors, in search of something more suitable than the dressing-gown she was now wearing. Inside the wardrobe hung dresses, shirts, and britches, swaying gently in the slight breeze Tamzin caused. They were all made of fine silks and rare fabric, she noted with some satisfaction. As she was quick to admit, much to people’s consternation, Tamzin was fond of clothes, and had plenty of feminine taste not normally exercised. Now her fashion sense had jumped in, begging her to let it get at the clothes.
Pursing her lips, Tamzin ran a paw down the side of each item, searching for something in her style. She found what she was looking for in a loose, wine-red tunic and dark britches. The tunic was slightly too big, and reached almost to her mid-thigh, which suited her perfectly. She pulled on the clothes, marvelling at their sleekness. The outfit was complete with her boots, obviously cleaned by a maid while Tamzin had been occupied in the bath. They had been left in a neat pile by the door, under her sword, belt, compass, dagger, hat, and charm string, and were far blacker than she had seen them in some time.
The Lupess slung on her sword belt and strung the charms, dagger, and compass from. She rearranged her throwing knives in her boots, and slid a thin stiletto up her sleeve. She liked to be on the safe side. Then she carefully replaced the hat on her head. Finished, she thought with some vanity.
After a final tug at her unruly curls, Tamzin crossed the room to the window beside the bed, peering out. The glass was open, the pale maroon silk curtains fluttering in the faint breeze. The window looked out on a stone courtyard; herbs lined the perimeter, with small statues of faeries spaced liberally. Tamzin stuck her head all the way out, breathing in the fresh, herb-scented air, welcome after two days spent in an underground dungeon.
Looking out at the sky, the light fast-fading, she wondered once more if she had done the right thing. It had been a sore blow to her pride to tell King Hagan she had no choice in the matter; Captain Tamzin Herner had a choice in everything. But everyone needed a little humility once in a while, and Tamzin certainly hadn’t overdone it. There was still, of course, the matter of the Destiny. Despite how small and humble it was, she loved that ship like her own life. It felt more a part of her than her own mother, whom she rarely visited anymore. Thinking of her mother sent a pang of longing stabbing through Tamzin’s heart. Her throat choked with emotion, and she felt tears prick at the corners of her eyes. How long had it been since she’d seen her dear mum? How long would it be again?
A pirate’s life you chose, and a pirate’s life you get, girl, Tamzin thought savagely. You’re paying the price for your decisions. Bad decisions? The question had haunted Tamzin for two years, as she Sailed the High Seas; feeling the power of conquering, the joy of learning to manage a ship, the warmth of bringing comfort to people who had thought all was lost, the glory of being second-to-no-one. And she had paid. Dearly. No-one could accuse Tamzin of not paying the price for her actions. No, she had faced up to her life long ago, and come away, if not entirely endeared, satisfied at least; happy, even. And in doing so, she had locked away the old Tamzin. The frightened, meek girl she had been was no longer. This cocky, self-assured, vain young pirate was who she was now.
There was a timid knock at the door, startling Tamzin out of her reverie. She jumped and looked around as the door opened. A slender white Zafara in a starched blue dress and beribboned cap dropped a low curtsey, watching Tamzin nervously.
“K-King Skarl requests you in his chamber at once,” she gasped. She looked up through a fringe of pale hair, her blue eyes wide. Inwardly, Tamzin jumped in shock. On the outside, she remained impassive, lifting one eyebrow slightly.
“I shall come at once,” she said after a slight pause. The maid nodded, looking terrified.
“H-h-he’s sent someone to e-escort you,” she stammered, before practically running from the room.
Tamzin watched her go, frowning slightly with satisfaction. So the rumours had reached even here. And certainly they had done a good job portraying her as a bloodthirsty pirate. Heck, she was legendary! And yet, it had everything to do with rumours, she mused. Tamzin herself was not terrifying. It was the idea of Tamzin that was frightening. The Lupess was no more frightening than any other young girl. But there were subtle things that did it, that upheld the reputation. The pearl and tiny gold heart that hung on a frayed string around her neck, tucked into the collar of her shirt but still just visible. They could be stolen from a dead man! The hat. Oh, how Tamzin loved the hat. She had been given the gift of looking dashing in any sort of hat, as well as the gift of a particularly dashing hat, and she had always put it to good use. And then there was the kohl lining her eyes. She had seen Ari staring at it. It seemed foreign and strange to these land-locked people, in their cool, dim Brightvale, but to Tamzin, who spent her life on a ship squinting into the sun, it was merely a handy tool. The dark paint reflected the sun back, preventing the brilliant rays from blinding her. It was a custom she had picked up during a short stay in the Lost Desert, where the people did anything and everything to avoid the merciless rays of the sun. Undoubtedly, it would seem strange to people in such a grey, gloomy country as Brightvale, where the sun was not a nuisance but a wonderful pleasure. With a sigh of something like pride, Tamzin tucked a stray curl behind her ear and stood straighter to wait for her ‘escort’.
Ari sat stiffly in her chair at the round stone council table. A bath and new clothes had done wonders for her body, but not her mind. Her thoughts still whirled around like broken pinwheels, spinning off in wild directions. The fact that Tamzin sat looking as calm and fresh as if she had not just spent two days in a dungeon made it all the worse. The pirate had changed into more suitable clothes, and the deep wine-red colour looked almost dashing on her. Her tri-corn hat, rammed on over her tangled curls, which she had obviously not bothered to brush after bathing – but at least she had bathed! – gave her a slight bit of cockiness; not so much it would be noticeable, but just enough to leave the observer slightly puzzled, like her dark-rimmed eyes. That girl. She haunted Ari’s thoughts perpetually. What had King Hagan been playing at, with his little speech? Was he truly to give her a Letter of Marque and allow her to become a privateer? Ari bit her lip, straightening up as the door opened just then and the king entered. The tall Skeith strode across the room to join them at the table, dropping into his chair, as plain and unadorned as Ari and Tamzin’s. Although a throne would have more befit his station, Hagan had always been known as a wise and fair king. Rather than risk jealousy among his knights and councillors, possibly leading to treachery, he made sure everything remained scrupulously equal.
“My King,” Ari acknowledged, half-rising. Hagan waved her down again.
“There is no need for formalities, Arianwen,” he said tiredly, running a hand through his close-cropped greying hair. Tamzin’s light eyes narrowed slightly, and Ari caught the gesture, wondering what it could possibly mean. She shook herself; she was becoming paranoid, trying to read every little move the girl made. She could be squinting at the light, for all Ari knew.
“We are here to discuss the niceties of my decision,” Hagan said after a moment. “Arianwen, I am sorry to distract you from your duties, but I have a special proposal I thought you might want to hear.”
The words ‘special proposal’ made Ari’s skin crawl. Whenever her king talked like that, it meant trouble, usually for Ari.
“Yes, Sire?” she said politely, lifting her chin slightly. Dust motes danced in the rays of afternoon sunlight striping the table before her, an ever-changing pattern of gaily swirling particles. She stared hard at them, not meeting the king’s gaze. He stared at Ari for another long moment, then turned toward Tamzin, who had continued to stare straight ahead during this exchange.
“You agree to my terms, as mentioned before?” he asked. His tone was mild, but there was a slight edge to it.
“I agree to your terms, Your Highness,” Tamzin acknowledged, ducking her head slightly. The tiny gold heart on the string about her neck caught the sunlight and threw off billions of tiny sparkles, momentarily blinding Ari, who blinked quickly. Hagan looked straight into Tamzin’s eyes, and held her gaze for a few seconds. Then he gave a short nod, and pulled a pile of documents from his robes.
“You know how to read?”
When Tamzin gave him a tiny twitch of her head, the king passed a paper toward her, and fumbled out a pen and inkwell. So the girl could read. Most peasants couldn’t, even in Brightvale, where it was encouraged, but Ari knew nothing of Krawk Island, where Tamzin was rumoured to come from. So far it seemed that most rumours were not true, such as the one in which the pirate was three metres tall, but this one could well be a real fact; the girl’s speech was accented strangely, and everything about her, from her kohl-rimmed eyes to the way she moved, with a sort of lithe grace, was foreign to Ari.
Tamzin slowly uncapped the inkwell, her pale eyes scanning the paper. She signed quickly at the bottom, and handed the paper delicately back to King Hagan. Ari caught sight of it as it passed by, and saw Tamzin’s signature, in small, loopy writing. It had a slight air of childishness about it, a reminder to Ari that the girl wasn’t very old. Perhaps fourteen or fifteen, sixteen at the most: a child still, really. The lady knight realized with some surprise that she had been thinking of Tamzin as older, nearly her age. The pirate certainly seemed confident and self-assured enough to be grown up.
“Arianwen, my proposal is thus,” King Hagan began, folding the document and laying it on the table in front of him. He laced his thick fingers together in a steeple, resting them lightly on the stone surface of the council table. “As you know, the position between Brightvale and the island of Stonesun is on particularly shaky ground these days. The king of Stonesun is on the very edge of breaking the ancient treaty, signed by our great-grandfathers. Stonesun is strong in their sea defences, being an island. Brightvale is sadly quite weak in this area, being landlocked. You seem to be noticeably tired these days. I believe a change would come welcome. My dear little pirate will be spying for me, as I have already told her.” King Hagan gave Tamzin a humourless smile. The Lupess returned the favour with a wolfish grin that somehow contrived to contain no mirth, cocking her head slightly. “You will accompany her on this mission. That is, if you agree.”
Ari was stunned. She gazed at the king, trying to read his intentions in his dark emerald eyes. Had he just suggested she throw off her duty to the kingdom and go gallivanting off with a pirate? Was she to forget her unerring loyalty, ingrained as a ten-year-old page, and abandon the king?
But then and again, it wasn’t abandoning the kingdom, really; she was going to be on an important spying mission. Something to aid the king. So really she would be doing her duty, even more so by going along. And a break in her regular duties would be a relief; even she had to admit she was becoming a little bad-tempered.
“That sounds... agreeable,” Ari managed slowly. She looked up, and caught Tamzin’s eye. Perhaps it was just a trick of the light, but the Gelertess could have sworn the pale green orbs twinkled at her. Ari ground her teeth, and set herself to finish listening to the king’s proposal.
“Land ho, sir.” The Jetsam touched a fin languidly to his forehead in a salute, his milky pale eyes surveying the inside of the cabin with interest. It looked like a pigsty. The bed lay unmade, clothing was thrown around. Empty bottles hit the walls with every sway of the ship, crushing biscuit crumbs and fish bones in their wake. The once-gleaming wood floor was thick with grime. The Jetsam’s boots stuck to it in a most unpleasant manner. The extreme filth of the cabin made it hard to find the Grarrl at first. Sunk low into an armchair in front of a little round table, his britches, shirt and vest as disgusting as the floorboards beneath his grime-encrusted boots, he looked up with rheumy eyes, glaring balefully at the Jetsam.
“Whot should I do ‘bout it?” he demanded, struggling to sit up better. He laid his hands across his ample paunch in a final manner, as if happy with his retort.
“Shall I give the orders then, sir? Say you are unwell this evening?” the Jetsam asked smoothly. His pale hair flopped into his face with the motion of the ship, swinging against his eyes. He ignored it, staring hard at the Grarrl through a sheet of blonde fringe.
“I thought you wished to make port yourself. The rumours are Kensley was the last place the girl was seen.”
“So whot? You can drop anchor and make port just as fine as me, seems I remember,” the Grarrl rumbled, glaring up at the Jetsam. He blinked, as if having a hard time focusing. “Git to it, Stal.” He flapped an enormous hand, and his claw struck a compass on the table in front of him. It fell to the floor, bouncing open as it went, the needle spinning wildly. The Jetsam’s eyes followed the compass’ course as it came to rest at his booted feet, open and pointing south. Broken.
“Of course, Captain,” Stal acknowledged, impassive. He reached down and scooped up the compass in one quick motion, turned on his heel, and was gone.
To be continued...