A Star-Spattered Sky: Part Four
The sunlight glinted on the blue water and the mountainous hills that the ship was passing made a picturesque scene. Jessica rubbed her eyes, wondering why she'd slept so late.
"We thought you might like a little extra nap-time. You really have been working yourself to the bone," Silver told her with a fond smile.
"I have not," Jessica disagreed sleepily. "I'm just learning, that's all." She yawned hugely and Silver laughed.
"Come on, the cooks might just give you some late breakfast." Silver held out his hand to help Jessica to her feet.
The cooks nudged each other when they saw Jessica. She wondered for the first time what she looked like. She hadn't brushed her hair at all, despite the fact that she was having regular baths. Her face was bruised from when someone accidentally smacked her in the fact with the flat of his sword.
'I must look like a wreck,' she thought, smiling. She fought back a giggle; she'd look strange if she started to laugh madly at nothing. 'This ship has done nothing for my looks. Not that they were fabulous to begin with...'
She took the plate of food the cooks offered, saying faint thanks. Sitting down at a table with Silver, she started to eat her food. "So why am I not having training today? And why are you not training the boys?"
"You are not training because you need to rest up." He held up a hand when Jessica started to ask what for. "That's nothing for you to worry about now. I am not training the boys because I have to stay with you and make sure that you rest." He cast her a warning look. "So don't try anything funny."
Jessica laughed. After she'd eaten she strolled along the deck. The breeze blew her hair about her face, making it even messier, she presumed. She caught one golden lock between her two fingers and examined it. It was a typical air faerie colour, lightest blonde with lots of knots and curls. But that was probably due to the near constant wind and rough training she experienced nearly every day.
Wondering once more when she'd ever get to see land again and feel the grass beneath her feet, she felt tears welling in her sky-blue eyes. "Somehow," she whispered. "Somehow I'll get back."
Deriun looked at the paper in front of him. Unlike most pirates, he could read and write exceptionally well. His paw shaking, he dipped the quill in the ink.
'This is the hardest letter I've ever had to write,' he thought. 'Ah, the irony of it. A faerie who stumbles on board this boat by accident has come to mean so much to me. What an un-pirate-like thing!'
He cleared his throat as if talking to a person. "You must not know who I am," his letter read, "but I am the pirate who raided the boat that you and your daughter were on. I think it is only proper that I should tell you that she is still here on this pirate ship. She is learning the skills of combat and we are docking in Shenkuu for a brief time. If you want to pick up your daughter from there, do not bring the authorities. If you do, your daughter stays with us. She does not seem too unhappy about staying on the ship. She actually seems to enjoy it." He sighed his name with careful precision before sighing, putting the quill down.
"It's a tough job," Silver said dryly from the door, startling Deriun. "You have to make decisions you wouldn't make in any other position; you have to go to your limits to protect those that you care about -- and those that care about you."
"I know," Deriun said sadly, looking at the letter once more. "It is not possible for captains of pirate ships and faeries to mix. I know it, but Jessica seems like she is meant for a pirate ship. She enjoys the sea breeze on her face, the salty smell of brine in her nostrils. She does not care that her hair is more tangled than a patch of thorns, she does not care that the food is not all that tasty. She deserves to stay!"
"But her duty is on land," Silver reminded him. "She has a life back there. She has a mother who misses her, a whole kingdom in the clouds who are wondering where on Neopia she has got to. Most importantly, there is a place up there that is empty. A place only she can fill."
"If she did challenge me," Deriun said in a strangled voice, "and went on to become the captain of a ship, do you think that her... people... would mind then?"
"Yes, I suppose it would be an offence," Silver said with a sharp sniff. "She lives in a delicate society; one jerk of a limb could break the whole web."
"And faerie webs are even more fragile than a Spyder's, for they are made of magic," Deriun whispered, more to the dancing wind that was coming in through his ever-open porthole than to anyone.
Jessica took advantage of Silver's brief departure. She slipped across the deck to where the boys were sparring with each other as usual.
"Jessica!" some called, happy to see her. She'd charmed most of them into liking her, that was, after she'd given the cold shoulder and observed them to see if they would prove annoying if she befriended them.
She could see each bead of sweat on her companions' faces, could feel every finger of the breeze on her skin acutely, could smell the salty scent of brine. And she felt like each of these tiny details mattered, were crucial to her survival.
'Which is odd, seeing as they are so minor,' she mused. 'But we were all as minor as those details once, and it takes a minor detail to grow into a big detail, which will, in turn, matter.' She nodded, pleased with her reasoning.
A hand was placed on her shoulder and she jumped. "I thought you were supposed to be resting," Silver said but he didn't seem bothered; he actually seemed quite faraway, like he'd been peeling potatoes (which was something which made Jessica's mind wander alarmingly) or something equally boring.
"Where have you been?" Jessica asked, narrowing her eyes. "You look so dreamy. Have you been with Deriun?" Jessica was the only one who called Deriun by his name, everyone else called him 'Captain' or something similar. "You always seem to be thoughtful when you come back from seeing him."
Silver's eyes darted to hers, clearly alarmed. "What?" he asked, panicked. "You -- you," he stuttered before regaining control of his mouth again. "You're exceptionally observant. Now, you have to come and rest."
"Silver!" Jessica whined. "I want to know!"
"You want to know too much," Silver snapped, propelling her away from the practise area. "You need to rest today. You have a big day tomorrow." He then bit his tongue, he'd given away too much information.
"What big day?" Jessica demanded, frustrated. "Silver! I hate not knowing! It's terrible to be subject to whatever Deriun and you are cooking up and not even know what the steam takes like!"
Silver chuckled but said nothing. Jessica stamped her foot, pulling up. "If you won't tell me, I'll get Deriun to tell me." She stormed off towards Deriun's cabin.
"No! Jessica, you --" He broke off when Jessica turned the knob on Deriun's door.
"Yes," she said, her eyes narrowed. "I can."
Deriun was sleeping in a hammock in the corner of his cabin, just taking a Kadoatie nap, he told himself. The next thing he knew, there was a searing pain up his arm and the right side of his body.
"Deriun, I'm only coming to you because Silver has absolutely, point-blank, refused to tell me what's going on," Jessica told him straight-off.
"He has? How awful," Deriun mumbled sleepily, blinking his eyes. "Who are you, by the way, ma'am?" Jessica slapped her forehead.
She patted Deriun's face until he woke up. "You've just been blathering about nonsense. You said you didn't know who I was and called me 'ma'am.'" Jessica couldn't stop a little giggle escaping her pale pink lips.
Deriun shook his head. "Just a Kadoatie nap," he muttered scornfully. "Right."
"Well, I said that Silver has refused to tell me what's going on. Tell me, Deriun. I command you."
"You command me?" Deriun asked, lifting his left eyebrow. "Really? Is that so, Jessica?"
"Yes," she said, lifting her chin. "I do command you." Deriun bowed low to her surprise.
"Then your wish," he said in a smooth tone, "is my command. And I perceive that you wish to know what is happening? Well, I'll tell you, Jessica, because it's your wish. Sit, sit." He gestured to the seat in front of his desk. "I shall tell you everything." Then, taking a deep breath, he began.
"As you must remember -- it seems impossible that it was such a short time ago -- you were on a ship with your mother. I don't know why you stayed on the ship, hiding in the hold, but you did. When my crew found you there, they brought you to deck. We decided that you'd just stay on the ship or we'd abandon you at the nearest port when we stopped to raid a ship or we'd drop you off if we passed another ship.
"Of course, this didn't work when you insisted on being a pirate. So, this is your brief history, Jessica. But I doubt you needed to know that." He grinned, pausing in his reverie to look at Jessica.
"Why I want you to leave is because when a pirate or a pirate's crew-member trains the other new crew-members, I run the risk of being over-thrown. When a trainee pirate becomes no longer trainee and shifts to master, if they continue to succeed in learning more and becoming better, eventually they must challenge the captain. If they win, they get the ship. If they win and they don't want to take the ship, they must leave and find a ship of their own.
"Silver and I thought that soon it will be time for you to challenge me. The problem is, Jessica, that your family, your kingdom, they need you. They want you home. You have a seat to fill up there; down here, no one even knows you're down here, so don't get me started." He smiled again, looking at Jessica thoughtfully.
"So sooner or later, Jessica, you'll have to go home. Whether it is to apologise that you can not go home or to go back to your old life, to reunite yourself with your mother and to fill that large, golden seat."
Jessica merely stared at Deriun. When she opened her mouth to tell Deriun what she thought, she didn't even get one syllable out. She simply fell out of her chair with a clatter, her eyes rolling back into her ashen face.
To be continued...