The Unorthodox Expedition: Part Three
Lilith Ferrars clomped down the steps of the Siren's Wail. Perseus, her black Seti, walked beside her. She was dressed for traveling, in dark trousers, a white blouse, coal-black boots, a gray belt with a soot-colored vest, and a black trench coat over it all. It was to be their last morning on Krawk Island.
A red Aisha burst out of the kitchen when she heard the two of them approaching. Her eyes were red, and her cheeks were wet. When Lilith saw her, she nearly broke her steely promise to Perseus that she would not cry. Dropping her pack, Lilith flew to Molly and gave her a fierce hug.
"Don't cry, Molly. Please don't cry. If you do, then I'll start and I don't want to face my captain blubbering like a baby," said Lilith.
Despite Lilith's protests, Molly turned away and began to sob uncontrollably. The white Lupess bit her lip. This was turning out quite differently than she would have liked. "S-sorry, love," sobbed Molly, "I c-can't seem to help it. Oh, this must be what a mother feels like when her baby l-leaves her! J-just leave me be, I'll cry meself out in a minute." She pulled a handkerchief out of her apron pocket and tried to mop up her face.
Lilith turned to a tap on her shoulder. Ruth was standing behind her, holding out Lilith's bag. "Have a good trip, girl. I suppose you'll be missed," she said stiffly. "Do write, and all that."
Lilith smiled. Ruth's indifference was refreshing. "I will. Thanks for everything, you two. I don't think I'll ever be able to repay you."
"Add one last breakfast to your debt. Molly insists," said Ruth, putting a mug of coffee and a bowl of porridge on an empty, splintered table. "Eat up. It will probably be the last decent meal you'll ever get," she added darkly.
Lilith ate obediently. Perseus paced back and forth behind her chair, probably afraid they would be late. Molly retreated to the kitchen, to "cry herself out", as she put it. She emerged looking considerably more composed, though she still sniffed occasionally.
Ruth took the empty dishes to the kitchen, and Lilith addressed Molly. "Cap'n Threelegs said he would go with me to the harbor."
"Oh! We'd come if we could, but ye can't abandon an inn on a Monday mornin'," said Molly regretfully, though Lilith would rather not have had an escort, anyway. "I'll have to say me goodbyes 'ere. Goodbye, love! Stay out of trouble! Et your meals on time, no matter if'n they're unappetizing, an' don't go lookin' fer fights!"
"Goodbye, Molly, and thank you for taking care of me. I'll write to you soon." Perseus put his forelegs on Molly's shoulder and licked her face in a rare loss of composure. Molly laughed and hugged the Seti. Ruth approached Lilith and stuck out her hand. She shook it, and that was all she got from Ruth.
Lilith tossed her pack over her shoulder and paused on the doorstep of the Siren's Wail. She looked back at the loving (and indifferent) faces she was leaving behind. She gave them a sad smile; with a deep foreboding that it would be the last she would ever be able to give them. Then she turned her back on what had been her home for many years and took her first step into the unknown.
Cap'n Threelegs was waiting at the harbor, as promised, arguing with a fisherman.
"I swear it on me bonny mum's wedding ring, Oliver!" he cried. "Miss Ferrars! Come help a friend out, lass! Here, Oliver, she'll vouch for me."
"What's this all about, Captain?" asked Lilith, much amused.
"Oliver 'ere refuses to believe that that young man's hat is Steven's old model from three years back!"
Oliver, an old yellow Gnorbu, proclaimed, "I tell you, chum, it's a Johnson from last year!" The two men were arguing over which store the man in question, a shadow Kougra, had gotten his hat. Lilith bit the inside of her cheek to keep from shrieking with laughter. This is a very serious matter, she sternly reminded herself.
"If it's causing you so much grief, why don't you simply ask him?" she inquired.
"Good show, Miss Ferrars!" said Oliver. "Mighty intelligent idea, that is. Ye can just go an' ask, we'll wait right here."
Lilith sighed. She didn't want to be late for her ship, but they would not budge. So, she nodded at the two men and approached the stranger.
"Good morning, sir," she said briskly.
He tipped his controversial cap at her. "Morning to you, too, miss." Now that she was at a closer vantage point, Lilith observed that there seemed to be a permanently placed smirk on the Kougra's face.
Lilith cleared her throat a bit uncomfortably. "Ahem- er, if you don't mind me asking, sir, where did you purchase your hat?"
He was surprised at her question, and raised his left eyebrow questioningly. "My hat? Well, I won it in a game of Cheat."
"Do you happen to know where the fellow you won it from bought it? Specifically, either from Steven's three years ago or Johnson's last year?"
His right eyebrow flew straight up and joined his left. "I haven't the foggiest, miss. And why have you such an interest in men's headwear?"
"Oh, I don't, really," Lilith said hurriedly, "but my two friends, they're standing over by those crates, do love discussing clothing. They were arguing over your cap, see, and I went to settle it for them so I can catch my ship."
He craned his neck a bit to peer at the men, so that Lilith spied a thin, gray scar cutting diagonally across his dark jaw line. "Could that be Cap'n Threelegs you're referring to?" he asked in an awed voice.
"Yes. And the Gnorbu is Oliver," Lilith confirmed.
The stranger's smirk turned into a broad grin. "Well, sorry I couldn't be more help, miss, but I have a ship to get to, also. Good day." He tipped the cap at her again and walked away.
Lilith went back to Oliver and Threelegs and expressed that both of them seemed to be wrong. Perseus, who had elected to stay behind, rose from Oliver's boots and stretched. Lilith glowered half-mockingly at him. "You might have accompanied me, mutt. He could have been dangerous." Perseus just yawned defiantly.
Lilith sighed again, then turned to Cap'n Threelegs. "Let's go, Captain."
"Of course, lass. You're positive ye didn't fergit anythin'?"
"Yes, very much so. Goodbye, Oliver."
"Luck be with ye, Miss Ferrars," said Oliver.
Lilith, Perseus, and Threelegs continued down the harbor. The day was blessedly sunny, with a good, strong wind that made Cap'n Threelegs long for the open sea. I envy the youth, and all their adventurin', he thought to himself. "Keep an eye out fer a vessel called Contemplative Philosophies," said Threelegs, "Ridiculous name, dontcha think?"
"Exceedingly ridiculous," agreed Lilith, "Well, that's Brightvale for you." They walked on in silence, turning their heads to read the names of the ships they passed.
Finally, they reached Contemplative Philosophies, anchored at the very end of the harbor. The ship was painted a gaudy green and white with large gold suns, rather hard to miss. A rather dazed-looking wooden Wocky wearing a lab coat and goggles served as figurehead. Cap'n Threelegs snorted, Lilith groaned, and Perseus sniffed haughtily.
There was quite a crowd in front of Contemplative Philosophies. Lilith recognized Professor Winthrop, who looked rather meek as he seemed to be getting a firm scolding from a large pirate-colored Bori. She also saw the shadow Kougra from earlier, the one with the cap. She had barely a second to register her observations before Perseus, standing beside her, let out a surprised bark. Lilith looked in the direction he was facing, and all the blood drained from her face. There was a third familiar face among the throng: it was Sam.
The little green Ogrin and his Warf were standing away from the crowd. Sam was holding a small pack and was observing everyone's faces with a bright smile on his own thin face. Lilith dashed over to him. "Sam!" she cried. She didn't yell, but her voice held a ferocity that made Sam shrink back, and his Warf yipped nervously. Perseus growled to silence it. "What, in good Fyora's name, are you doing here!? It can't be that you're thinking of coming; oh, no, Sam, you'd better not be thinking that."
Sam could only nod meekly; he was, in fact, thinking that very thing. "What about Ben, Sam? Does he know you're abandoning him?" Sam nodded with a bit more confidence.
"Did he tell you to come?" Yes.
"Is he going to be okay?" Yes.
"Is Ben still at his stall?" No.
"He's at the Siren's Wail, right?" Yes.
Lilith sighed, with nothing left but to resign herself to this odd occurrence. That seemed all she would be able to get out of the mute Sam. Cap'n Threelegs had joined them by that time. "Well, Miss Ferrars! Almost rude to be runnin' off like that, it is!" he said indignantly.
Lilith apologized and explained the circumstances to him. Cap'n Threelegs grinned. "Willin' to strike out on yer own, is ye, boy? Luck to ye, then. That's how I got me start."
Sam's smile was worth a hundred words. "Now, ye stick close to Miss Ferrars here; she'll see that you get along okay." Sam nodded obediently.
Professor Winthrop and the pirate Bori entered the scene. "Threelegs! Coming out of retirement, are you?" asked the Bori.
"Not on yer life, Theodore! No, I was just escortin' this little lass to her ship," said Cap'n Threelegs, pushing Lilith forward. Cornelius brightened when he saw her.
“ ‘Allo, miss," said the Bori. He then turned away, obviously preoccupied. The Bori climbed up on a crate and addressed the throng, " 'Scuse me, folks! This is yer Captain, Theodore Harmond speakin'! Would everyone please form an orderly line! I'll come 'round and ask you lot for your name and your sailing experience, as this idiot Professor here just went and assumed all o' you was sailin' material."
The "idiot Professor" flushed embarrassedly at his statement. Did he have to humiliate me in front of the entire crew? Cornelius thought dejectedly. Though, it seemed like Lilith wasn't paying much attention.
Now, Lilith Ferrars was in a fix. She had never served on a ship before. Lilith had been planning on hiding her inexperience and learning quickly. She positioned herself near the end of the crooked line, to perhaps get an idea of what she would say from everyone else's statements. Sam stood beside her, seemingly unperturbed from this turn of events. The shadow Kougra caught her eye from somewhere near the beginning of the line and smiled. She weakly tried to return it.
Cap'n Threelegs hung back and surveyed the line with his arms crossed and a shadow of a smile on his face. A buxom brown Acara stood by him, with a similar expression, and Captain Harmond began his interrogation.
Lilith strained her white ears to hear what the others were saying. They seemed to be listing off a collection of credentials; one had been born on a ship, one came from a sailing family, one could climb just about anything.... And so it went. She did have a knack for astronomy, Lilith remembered, but astronomy was something she had left behind with her old life. But really, how much harm could a few stars do?
The lady beside her, a yellow Xweetok, introduced herself as Elizabeth Steele. She was well-taught in the art of combat and knew a great deal about weaponry in general. Captain Harmond accepted her on the spot. Then, it was Lilith's turn.
"Name and experience, lass," said the Captain.
"Lilith Ferrars. I can read the stars and manage an astrolabe or sextant, or whatever else you throw at me. I don't know too much about sailing," she confessed, "but I can learn fast."
Captain Harmond tugged his beard thoughtfully. "I like yer honesty, Miss Ferrars. Consider yerself part of the crew." Lilith released a breath she didn't realize she had been holding.
The Captain had already moved on. "Name and experience," he said, addressing Sam. A wave of guilt washed over Lilith. She had been so worried about her own position, she had forgotten about Sam. He was even less qualified than she, not to mention mute. Lilith opened her mouth to intervene.
But there was no need. Sam, through a series of exaggerated pantomimes, expressed that he was mute, but he was a hard worker. Sam also introduced his pet Warf to the Captain.
The Captain was much amused by Sam's display. He laughed as he patted the little Warf's head. "I understand you, lad. And I'd be glad to have you on me ship. But I still need to know yer name. For the record-books, you see. You do have a name, don't you?"
"His name is Sam," said Lilith finally, "but he doesn't have a last name."
"No last name? That won't do. Tell you what, lad, you can borrow mine. From now on, you're Sam Harmond, and don't let anyone tell you different."
So, at last, a proper crew was assembled for the Contemplative Philosophies. There was the Captain, Theodore Harmond, a pirate Bori. The brown Acara aforementioned was Lucille Harmond, the Captain's wife. She would be the cook. The shadow Kougra, whose name turned out to be Sebastian Duske, was also coming aboard. Lilith Ferrars was appointed head navigator. Elizabeth Steele and her collection of weapons had secured a post, and Sam Harmond had the title of Cabin Boy. There was an ancient spotted Gelert, whom everyone referred to as Old Phil. Besides them, there were Edwin Chum, a hulking mutant Bruce, and Henry Chum, an agile mutant Ixi. And, of course, Professor Cornelius Winthrop, the Lenny patron of the voyage.
The Captain paid some idle Eyries on the harbor to load the last-minute provisions on board so the crew could take the time to get acquainted.
"You'll be breathin' the same air for a good few months; might as well make nice," he said before going to direct the loading.
Some of the crew started making small talk about the weather; Cap'n Threelegs cornered Lilith. "Take this, Miss Ferrars," he said, and held out a knife as long as her forearm sheathed in black leather and attached to a belt. The leather was painted with intricate designs and patterns, in red and gold. The blade, when pulled out, was a perfectly balanced, double-edged, slender sword. "Ye never know when a blade might come in handy. Got this parti'cler one when I was about yer age, from Shenkuu. Keep it sharp, and keep it close."
"Thank you, Captain. I will." Lilith pulled the belt on over her black trousers.
"Ye're a good lass, Lilith. I'll miss ye an' Perseus. Goodbye, now." There was a catch in Cap'n Threelegs's voice as he said his stiff goodbyes. He turned away quickly and hurried down the Harbor.
Lilith was watching Threelegs go, so she didn't notice Sebastian Duske come up behind her. He was wearing his insolent smirk. "Well, miss. Strange twist of fate for both of us to be on the same ship." Lilith noticed that his eyes were a cold, icy blue. They reminded her of glaciers lit by the sun.
"And what a hideous ship it is," she said. They both turned to look at Contemplative Philosophies.
"The name would be almost bearable, if it weren't for the terrible paint job," Sebastian remarked. They both laughed. "I've seen worse, though. A friend of mine went sailing with a faerie-colored bloke, and would you guess what that ship was painted? Pink! The most horrendous shade of hot pink ever seen, from the bow to the stern!"
Perseus growled almost jealously. Who was this Kougra to be laughing and joking with his master? The indecency! "A fine petpet you've got, Miss Ferrars," said Sebastian, "but however did you manage to get your hands on a Lost Desert breed?"
"Smuggler's Cove," said Lilith dismissively. "The loading seems about done, doesn't it?" It did seem about done, as Captain Harmond was putting neopoints into the Eyries' waiting hands, while Professor Winthrop fluttered about and protested.
Presently, Captain yelled, "All aboard Contemplative Philosophies! Ten minutes till we shove off!"
Sebastian went ahead to help Lucille Harmond with her pots, and Sam found Lilith. She smiled down at the little green Ogrin. He beamed back and took her hand. "Ready, Sam?" He nodded. The excitement in her emerald eyes was reflected in his brown ones. "Let's go."
To be continued...