A Most Unlikely Swashbuckler
It wasn’t all the leaping that made Tonnie’s family suddenly choose to go outdoors. It wasn’t the jumping or thumping or high kicking. It was the spinning that did them in. Tonnie twirled with a passion few believed a Tonu could possess. Focusing all her attention on the gold disco ball that hung precariously over her pineapple bed, she’d practice her pirouettes ...one, two, three, splat! She’d lost her balance so often that the floorboards by the foot of her bed were starting to buckle. Tonnie loved to dance when she was happy, but absolutely, fervently HAD to dance when she was upset. Today, Tonnie had landed three times on her oversized blue tutu. It was that last splat that provoked Mom, her owner, to yell from the garden outside Tonnie’s open window, “__dieguito__! Come help me plant some song flowers!”
Tonnie hoisted herself up from the floor and plopped down unceremoniously on her pineapple bed. A sweet pineapple scent wafted over her. She threw first one blue ballet slipper and then the other at a glow-in-the-dark moon on the far wall of her bedroom. She missed both times. How she hated to be called __dieguito__!
“What were you thinking, Mom?” Tonnie shouted. “Who ever, EVER, gave you the slightest hint I might want to study at Cap'n Threelegs' Swashbuckling Academy on February 21st? That’s Tonu Day. I’ll simply die if you make me take training on the 19th too!” She turned over on her tummy with an angry bounce. No Tonu Parade for her, oh no! Extra training... that was her lot in life! Her bed creaked and sagged almost to the floor. A small pineapple juice puddle formed on her old cream rug.
Jenn12neo couldn’t help but hear extraordinarily loud sighs emanating from her youngest sister’s room. She rapped softly on Tonnie’s door and let herself in. She took the lid off of an earthen striped jug that sat on her sister’s coconut glass table and placed it under Tonnie’s bed to catch some slowly dripping pineapple juice. Then she sat down gently beside her sighing sister and not-so-gently smacked her on her extraordinarily large head.
“Are you for real?” Jenn12neo asked incredulously. “Why do you think Mom signed you up for training and not me? Did it NEVER occur to you that she might have wanted you to feel confident and proud of yourself at the Academy on Tonu Day so she scheduled an extra lesson for you beforehand? You’re close to Level Nothing. You OWE it to yourself to get some training.”
“Lovely Jenn, with the perfect Peophin shape and exquisite tail, FOCUS! Every species of Neopet will be there. I’ll be the 199 pound clumsy and awkward one. I’ll probably sink the boat!" Tonnie grabbed one of her pretty pink pillows and placed it squarely over her massive horn.
“Listen to me, Ms. Tonu,” her sister exclaimed. “It’s ship, not boat. Also, you are strong and smart and, well, you’re extraordinary. You’re young enough to experience a thousand things and make a thousand mistakes. That’s how neopets and petpets and petpetpets and even owners grow wiser. Besides, when you finally succeed, it will be like winning the Neopian Lottery!
Tonnie just shook her head and thought to herself, “Sometimes my big sister knows what she’s talking about. This is definitely NOT one of those times.”
Early on the morning of February 19th, Tonnie and other Sea Urchins (neopets with Levels below 11) traveled to the northwestern end of Krawk Island. They gathered beside the gangplank of an old pirate galleon anchored close to shore. Lutaris and Tuskaninnies, Flotsams and Jetsams, Quiggles and Koi and even Peophins were packed into undersea Sea Urchin groups that day. Pteris, Eyries, Korbats, Lennies, and Buzzes were flocked into the air Sea Urchin groups. Tonnie was herded into a small band of land Level 3ers. In her group were a JubJub, a Zafara, an Acara, a Xweetok, a Kacheek, a Uni, a Lupe, a Kougra, and a Grarrl. She outweighed the Grarrl by 60 pounds.
As the group made its way up the gangplank, Tonnie accidentally caught her hoof on a rotting fragment of board and inadvertently tripped over the JubJub. His ear-splitting wail resounded over the entire ship. Tonnie, naturally green in color, began to turn red with embarrassment and ended up a blotchy brown for a while.
Their group leader was a wiry old Krawk named Pirate Paulie. He had a djuti named Squawk atop his left shoulder and a mellow marauders hat on top of his bald head. Two of his fingers were missing. He met his group at the top of the gangplank and began his lecture.
“Yer one lucky lot. Scurvy Dan the Blade and Captain Crossblades arr lecturin’ to the more advanced students at the Swashbuckling Academy all this week. Thar be nary a seat to spare. Me and Cap’n Threelegs and some of the crew have taken over this here galleon. Yer goin’ ter train aboard a real live pirate ship, mateys.” Pirate Paulie paused and peered at the wide-eyed young neopets before him.
“Ship, Service, Attitude,” he declared. “Aye, that’s what ye scurvy lot of Urchins arr a studyin’ today so ye can pull yerselves up to Level 4. Before we take a tour of this here galleon, tell me, who here wants to be a swashbuckler?”
Acara waved his hand back and forth in the air and shouted, “I want to be a pirate. I want to find buried treasure. Can we find some treasure today? Can we?” The Lupe, Grarrl, and Kougra nodded in agreement.
Uni rolled her pretty eyes and expressed Tonnie’s opinion exactly. “I’d rather bite off my own horn than be a pirate. Mother made me train today.” Then, as an afterthought, she gazed down at the silver heart charm bracelet on her wrist and murmured, “I do like treasure, though.”
JubJub, still nursing a large bruised spot on his head, spoke up furiously. “Who cares about becoming a pirate? I’m here to train for the Battledome. I’d rather study under the Techo Master, but classes are cheaper here.” Then he glanced at Tonnie, frowned, and turned back to Pirate Paulie. “Obviously, no slob would step on me at the Mystery Island Training Academy.”
“Step on you? No!” declared Zafara. “They’ll just use their neopian martial arts skills to drop-kick you all the way to the cooking pot.” Tonnie smiled at her. Here was a kindred spirit. Pirate Paulie seemed pleased to have a Zafara aboard ship too; pirates as a rule like being around those who might bring them good fortune. JubJub, however, growled under his breath and mentally added Zafaras to his dung list.
“Kacheek, arr ye goin’ ter participate today or arr ye sittin’ this trainin’ out?” Pirate Paulie asked severely. “Thar’s a rumor that Kacheeks don’t like fightin’.”
Kacheek shyly smiled at each of the members of her group. Then she burned her eyes into Pirate Paulie’s and announced, “Try me. Come on. I’ll show you all what I’ve got.” She looked again at the Neopets around her, only this time her grin was menacing and she showed her teeth.
“Urchins, line up one by one,” bellowed Pirate Paulie. He led the young Neopians around the aging galleon, the large, multi-decked sailing ship that had become a teaching tool in its later years. Soon the urchins were spouting words like jib and stern, bow and keel, rudder and bulkhead.
Pirate Paulie pointed to a large basket high atop the mainmast. “That thar’s a crow’s nest. What do ye think we use it for?”
This was a question Tonnie was certain she could answer. She raised her right front hoof above her head so that Pirate Paulie would call on her. When he did, she answered with conviction. “Sir, it’s used to house baby blackbirds. I’ve heard that four and twenty blackbirds can be baked in a pie. When you’re far away from land and have to feed a hungry crew, that gigantic crow’s nest can sure come in handy!”
Pirate Paulie sneered at her. “Think yer pirate enough to prove there be baby birdies in that thar nest?”
Tonnie gazed at the tall mast and the basket that sat way up on top. She looked at the ladder and rope that hung down from the basket. Then she thought about what her big sister had called her: strong and smart and extraordinary. Tonnie decided to go with smart.
“Sir. No, sir. I’m not pirate enough to find out,” she said adamantly.
“Urchin. Show some respect for yerself.”
Tonnie thought for a moment, then replied, “Respectfully, no sir???” Her eyes met Pirate Paulie’s in a pleading and pathetic way.
As a rule, Pirate Paulie didn’t object to Tonus serving aboard pirate vessels. He just didn’t like babysitting Sea Urchins and there was something about Tonnie that made his teeth gnash together. Besides, the screaming JubJub incident gave him a headache.
“Up. Now. Go, go, go!” Pirate Pauline knew Tonnie wouldn’t get past the first two rungs of the ladder and everyone would have a good laugh. Then he’d ask the Acara or Xweetok to climb into the crow’s nest. They’d be up and back before you could say Smugglers Cove.
Tonnie grabbed the rope in her two front hooves, but couldn’t decide what to do with her back hooves. She tossed the rope aside in favor of the ladder. Cautiously, Tonnie put her lower left hoof on the bottom-most rung, her lower right hoof one rung higher and her top hooves in rungs she could reach. She heard Uni declare, “That Tonu is just too bizarre!”
“I’ll give her that one,” Tonnie nodded to herself in agreement.
Carefully, Tonnie climbed higher and higher, one hoof at a time. With each step she muttered various versions of, “When I fall, it’s going to be on that pirate.”
Finally, Tonnie reached the woven crow’s nest. It felt solid and strong. She put first one, then the other front hoof over the basket edge. Looking down into it, she used the rim of the basket to help her pull herself further inside. With her two back hooves pushing on the outside of the basket, she strained until she felt gravity take over. She fell head first into the crow’s nest, piercing the bottom with her large horn when she landed. She wondered dejectedly how many neopoints a new crow’s nest would cost. However, she was thankful her horn was still in one piece and happy there were no crows in the nest; she would have squished them when she landed.
When Tonnie stood up tall in the basket, a number of things suddenly became clear to her. First, the view from the crow’s nest was outstanding. She could imagine that sailors far from land might turn a crow loose and follow it straight to shore “as the crow flies.” Second, all the shouting, clapping, whistling, and cheering she heard was for HER. She waved both front hooves to the crowd on deck far below. Third, as the wind pitched the crow’s nest back and forth, the motion was making her green and seasick. Fourth, she had no way to get down; the ladder she’d climbed up on had begun to seriously fray and had unhinged itself on one side.
The little Tonu weighed her options aloud. “I’m strong. I’m smart. I’m extraordinary. Either I spend the rest of my life up here without a bathroom throwing up on anyone stupid enough to walk underneath me or I take that rope and figure out how to use it.” She grabbed the rope between both her front hooves and hung on tightly. Then she worked her back hooves up the inside of the basket to the edge, closed her eyes, and swung. While in the air, she immediately wrapped her hind legs around the rope and hung on for dear life. Then she started to slowly inch her way down the rope, first moving her forelegs down a bit, then holding tight and letting her hind legs position themselves a little bit lower. It seemed to take forever. Finally, when she was about two-thirds of the way down, she couldn’t grab on any longer and slid down the rope the rest of the way. She landed with a splat on the galleon’s deck.
Neopets and pirates alike swarmed to her with aid and congratulations. Even Cap’n Threelegs himself came to see that the little Tonu was in one piece. Once he determined that all was okay, he took his wooden leg and began smacking Pirate Paulie with it, yelling, “What war ye thinkin’?!!” The djuti flew off of Pirate Paulie’s shoulder and landed on Tonnie’s horn.
Cap’n Threelegs turned to Tonnie and asked, “How many crows did ye count up thar, youngin?” His bright orange beak turned up at the edges and his fierce Eyrie eyes smiled.
“That’ll be our secret,” Tonnie responded with a huge grin.
Soon after the crow’s nest incident, Cap’n Threelegs assigned a new instructor to Tonnie’s Sea Urchin training group. It was a large, shifty-eyed Moehog pirate. He wore a golden ring in his right ear and a Balthazar T-shirt. He had a wooden hind leg. Third Mate Moe he was called. The students noted that being a pirate might entail losing a limb, a heavy price to pay for buried treasure.
Third Mate Moe ushered the ten young neopets into the bowels of the ship. He showed them the brig, the sleeping cabins, and the galley, and introduced them to the ship’s cook, a sweating, wheezing, foul-smelling Skeith.
“Urchins,” Moe declared, “A ship cannot sail unless all hands, paws, hooves, fins and wings work together. Sea Urchin Grarrl, Sea Urchin Lupe, check all the ropes, pulleys, sails, and cables. Sea Urchin Acara, Sea Urchin Kougra, polish all the brass ye see and find brass ye don’t see and polish that too. Sea Urchin JubJub, Sea Urchin Kacheek, swab the deck, but don’t interfere with anyone engaged in the fine game of deckball. Second Mate Mai Ling is waiting for ye six up top. She’ll show ye what to do.” Third Mate Moe motioned them to a large supply cabinet by the galley. One by one they took the supplies they needed and set off to make Moe proud.
“Sea Urchin Xweetok, Sea Urchin Zafara, make my cabin smell all pretty like and don’t ye be touchin’ nothin’ that don’t belong to ye. Sea Urchin Tonu, Sea Urchin Uni, yer goin’ ter help Cook this morning.”
Tonnie and Uni went with Cook to the galley. Inside there were barrels filled with dried and salted blandfish, butterfish, eyefish, lesser spotted fish, and breadfish. Other barrels were brimming with dried and salted bronco bites, nerkin and raptraphant legs, joints of ham, and beastburgers.
“Don’t touch the stove,” Cook emphasized. “One spark in the wrong place and this whole galleon is toast. Understood? Now, ye two, get them thar raw potatoes ready for my cooking ‘um. We’re having dried cubefish and mashed potatoes for supper. Understood?” He pointed to a large vat of soiled potatoes in the center of the galley and then pointed to two knives thrown into a wall opposite a sooty red old time wood burning stove. “Got to check on a food delivery,” he said as he scurried out of the galley.
Tonnie and Uni reluctantly set to peeling potatoes. At first, laughing and joking, each tried to see who could create the longest unbroken potato peel. When they realized they were wasting time, they plowed through the potato vat, peeling as fast as they could. Finally, the last potato was peeled and the Uni and Tonu were covered in potato juice and dirt. Their backs were sore, their necks were stiff, and their hooves were raw in places.
“Are we finished?” implored Uni.
“I don’t know. Did Cook say to we were supposed to MASH these potatoes?” Tonnie questioned.
“I wasn’t paying that much attention,” Uni replied. “Maybe when he said, “Understood?” we should have said, “Not exactly.”
Tonnie and Uni soon learned that peeling potatoes wasn’t as difficult as mashing them. They found mallets in one of the galley drawers and began to whack the potatoes as hard as they could. Except for getting squirted with potato juice, nothing much happened. Then they tried to slice the potatoes and hit the slices with the mallets. That was more successful, but their hooves hurt and they couldn’t keep up slicing for very long. They tried to attack the raw potatoes with their horns, but the potatoes kept getting stuck.
Finally Tonnie had an idea. “Did you ever practice ballet?” she asked Uni. The young Tonu began to gracefully jump up and down on the potatoes. She leaped on them. She hopped on them. Then she started to twirl on them. Uni watched, learned, and followed. Of course, they often slipped and fell, but they didn’t really hurt themselves and their weight and laughter helped with the mashing.
When they got tired of potato dancing, they devised a game of potato ball. One pitched a potato to the other who batted it with her mallet. The galley floor was filled with chunks of potatoes, slices of potatoes, mashed potatoes, and splatted potatoes. There were pieces of potatoes and spurts of potato juice on the walls, cupboards, counters, and ceiling.
“Maybe we’d better start to put the mashed potatoes in some pots or something and clean up this place,” suggested the Uni who’d never lifted a hoof to help her owner without being cajoled.
They found some plain wooden bowls and began put the potato chunks in them so they would be ready for Cook to wash and boil. They started working quickly and diligently, but it was too late.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!” exclaimed the furious cook. “Ye can’t mash potatoes ‘afor I cook ‘um. Where war yer heads? Why wasn’t Third Mate Moe supervising ‘ye? I’ll see him in the brig, mateys!”
After the mashed potato incident, Third Mate Moe was replaced by a mutant-painted Gelert named Bonnie Annie. She wore a sparkling multi-strand gothic necklace with skull charm around her thick neck and kept an engraved short sword in a leather sheath tied around her waist. She waited patiently for the Sea Urchins to stop their chatter. Without saying a word, she held up a sign that simply said RESPECT.
“All swashbucklers worth their salt,” she began in a soft voice that wasn’t at all like a pirate’s, “respect their ship and all those who serve aboard it. They respect their captain. They respect the officers under whom they serve. Most of all, they respect themselves. They know their duty and do it to the best of their ability without being asked. Lives, including their own, depend on that. They don’t serve blindly, though. They know what’s right and follow their own consciences.”
“That doesn’t sound like any pirate I’ve ever heard of,” argued Grarrl. “Pirates are cut-throated killers who would sooner cut your leg off than give you a dubloon. They’ll dice you open with their swords or shoot you up with their cannons if you so much as try to steal their treasure.”
“True enough, when the occasion warrants.” Bonnie Annie nodded. “But if pirates don’t work together to keep their ship afloat, they won’t have much chance to do anything else. Pirates who bring shame to their ship may find themselves in the brig or worse.”
“What’s worse than the brig?” questioned Xweetok looking left and right at the others.
“They could walk the plank,” answered Bonnie Annie.
“Oh, that’s okay,” Xweetok sighed with relief. “We already walked the plank to get on this boat.”
“That’s the gangplank,” Lupe responded rolling his eyes up to the ceiling. “The plank is something way different. You’ll show ‘um, won’t you, Bonnie Annie?”
Pirate Bonnie Annie led the small band of Level 3s onto the main deck. There she pointed out a wooden beam extending from the side of the ship over the water.
“Bonnie Annie, can we play Walk the Plank?” Zafara asked gaily.
Bonnie Annie took out her wind up pocket watch. The four-hour training session was almost over. “You can pretend to walk the plank only if you take this seriously (a little),” she said lightly. She remembered that she was once a Sea Urchin too.
One by one, with hands or front legs tied, each Level 3 walked to the edge of the plank and, with a curdling scream, dramatically pretended to fall into the water below. Tonnie was the last to try. She’d heard about walking the plank and, after the mashed potato incident, wondered a little if she’d be sentenced to that terrible fate. The young Tonu walked to the very end of the plank and stared down at the sea. There was something shining in the sand at the bottom. She bent forward lower and lower, and of course lost her balance and clumsily did a belly flop into the sea.
Tonnie felt movement under the water and she began to twist her hind legs and bound forelegs in fright. Then something grabbed her tail and climbed up her back. It was a Lutari.
“Keep still,” he commanded. “We’re underwater Sea Urchins. We just advanced to Level 4. We’re trying to bite through your ropes and set you free. We’re going to save your life.”
Suddenly a massive pirate jumped overboard with an elephante sushi chef knife clutched between his teeth. He swam to the struggling young Tonu and instantly sliced through her ropes.
Fortunately for Tonnie, the galleon was anchored close to shore. She swam behind the pirate who led her around the perimeter of the ship. In a few moments, she waded through the surf to land. She fell to her knees and kissed the warm Krawk Island sand. As a gesture of solidarity, the other nine Sea Urchins who had been watching the whole incident from the side of the ship ran to the end of the plank and one by one cannonballed into the water and swam over to her.
Uni borrowed a sheet of paper and blue pencil with eraser from someone on shore. When their owners came to pick them up, they found their neopets still on the sand near the galleon exchanging neomail addresses and shouting, “We’re Level 4, we’re Level 4.”
Cap’n Threelegs personally sought out Tonnie’s owner and did something he’d never done before. He let her peer through his gold plated handheld spyglass telescope and pointed out Mystery Island. Then, with a smile, he gave her a handful of codestones.