The Unorthodox Expedition: Part Five
Unfortunately, Sam never did make it to dinner on his first day at sea.
"I'll just take some broth up to him later," Lucille Harmond said. The crew sat around the oak table to eat. Sunlight had long since faded, so gas lamps were placed in every corner to ward off the darkness. Four long benches were set on the rough carpet around the square table. Another lamp hanging from the ceiling swayed back and forth hypnotically.
"Faeries bless our fortune, an' make our journey successful," Old Phil blessed, while everyone bowed their heads. Then they ate.
"My gracious! The flavors in your roast are exquisite, Mrs. Harmond!" Professor Winthrop exclaimed. The speckled Lenny was quite the culinary expert. Mrs. Harmond beamed at the praise, and she and Cornelius started speaking of spices and recipes no one else bothered to care about.
Elizabeth Steele nibbled on her roast disdainfully. She thought the meat was a bit too gamey, but food was food. Who was she to judge?
Edwin Chum avoided eye contact with anyone who happened to glance his way. He was painfully aware of the fact that his bulk took up twice the space everyone else occupied. Henry Chum noticed his brother's discomfort. The mutant Ixi leaned towards him and hissed, "Don't just sit there like a dunce. Talk to someone."
Edwin grew nervous. Talking was something he really did not want to do, but Henry had told him to do just that, and Henry always knew best. He turned to the person sitting on his right, a pretty white Lupe with green eyes. What was her name? Lucy? Lilith? She was studying a map of ocean currents the Captain had given her, and had pushed her plate over to make room for it. Edwin cleared his throat.
"Er- excuse me, miss, b-but what's that you're looking at?" he asked in a low baritone.
Lilith looked up, her eyes focusing on the mutant Bruce sitting next to her. "Sorry, what was that?" she said.
Edwin Chum gulped. Saying that once had been hard enough. "W-what's that you're looking at?"
"Oh! This is a map of water currents. Captain Harmond gave it to me. Currents can greatly affect a ship's course. Here," she repositioned her plate and pushed the map closer to him. "The red arrows are surface currents, and the blue ones are underwater ones. Surface currents generally travel faster than underwater currents because they are guided by the wind and Kreludor. Underwater currents are moved by the plates of earth under Neopia."
The information went through one of Edwin's ears and came out from the other. But he smiled and nodded all the same, grateful that she was doing most of the talking.
Henry Chum watched the scene with an air of approval. His introverted brother generally needed a push before he could make friends.
Captain Harmond interrupted Lilith while she was explaining the regeneration of tectonic plates to a bewildered Edwin. "Well, Miss Ferrars, the sky will be clear at nine tonight if you want to have a look at the stars."
"Yes, sir!" she said, then remembered Perseus. "But has anyone seen my Seti? I can't seem to find him anywhere."
"I thought he might be with Sam," said Sebastian Duske, "but I'll keep an eye out."
No sooner had Sebastian finished his sentence than Perseus himself sauntered into the dining area, with a large, fat Spyder in his mouth. He proudly dropped the dead creature on the table, then sat back and waited for the praise.
Mrs. Harmond let out an involuntary shriek, then blushed with embarrassment. "Pests!? On my ship?" cried Captain Harmond in disbelief, rising to his feet. Yes, it seemed as if Contemplative Philosophies was infested. Cornelius patted Mrs. Harmond's hand to calm her down. She was apologizing profusely.
Lilith was whispering to Perseus, "Good job catching it, mutt, but get it off the table before Mrs. Harmond faints." Sebastian was having a good laugh from the other side of the table, and Old Phil frowned and grumbled to himself. Miss Steele acted as if nothing was going on, and sat sipping her borovan without a care in the world. Both brothers Chum had amused smiles on their faces.
Perseus was sulking. After all the trouble he had gone to hunt that Spyder! He grudgingly took it back in his mouth and stalked out of the ungrateful room.
"Oh!" Mrs. Harmond exclaimed, "You all know the superstition! A dead Spyder on a dinner table after five o'clock means the first person at the table to get a paper cut after they see it will die in a fortnight! Oh!"
"Awfully specific superstition," Elizabeth commented dryly, amid barely suppressed laughter.
"It's true, I tell you!"
"Miss Ferrars, I'll expect Perseus to keep our pest problem in check." Captain Harmond, through years of experience, had learned it was best to ignore his wife when she got hysterical.
"Of course, sir," she agreed, cracking her knuckles and looking rather troubled.
A few hours after dinner, Sebastian entered the room he shared with some of the other men. The first thing he saw was Sam's Warf, fast asleep on Sebastian's hammock. Sam himself was lying on a cot in a corner, having been moved there by Lucille. Mrs. Harmond was feeding Sam teaspoons of chicken broth. Now that he was better, the poor boy was famished.
"The wheel's fine, Old Phil," Sebastian said, as he loped past the spotted Gelert.
"THE WHEEL IS FINE!"
"Ah. Good, good." Old Phil was folding his weathered brown vest and carefully placing it under his bed. After dinner, the Gelert had used his limited knowledge of magic to enchant the wheel so it would hold its course.
Henry Chum was already asleep in his hammock. Edwin was standing awkwardly against one of the wooden walls.
"Is everything all right, Edwin?" Sebastian asked in a rather off-handed way.
After a pause, Edwin said, "Wh-where should I sleep?"
An excellent question. The spikes on the mutant Bruce's back would easily tear through the canvas of a hammock. The only real bed was taken by Old Phil, who declared his old bones too creaky for a hammock. The cot Sam was currently sitting on was far too small for Edwin's bulk.
Sebastian considered all of this while gripping his chin thoughtfully. "Well, for now, mate, you're going to have to sleep on the floor. We may be able to arrange something tomorrow, if you can wait."
Edwin nodded agreeably; he really didn't mind sleeping on the floor, he just needed someone to tell him it was okay. Henry had said a rude word when he had asked him.
Edwin dutifully took a blanket and a ripped pillow and settled down on the floor. He was snoring in deep, rumbling tones in minutes.
Sam had finished his broth by then. He nodded gratefully to Lucille, then climbed up on a stool to reach his hammock. Mrs. Harmond carried out the spoon and bowl.
"Good night, Mrs. Harmond," Sebastian said, opening the door for her.
"Good night, Mr. Duske." And then, in all solemnity, she added, "And mind you don't get a paper cut, boy."
Sebastian could only hold in his laughter for as long as it took for her footstep to fade away.
Lilith Ferrars woke the next day in a foul mood. The sunlight had wormed its way through the porthole window to illuminate the white Lupess, face down on the floor. She must have fallen off her hammock the night before, and now had maddening muscle pain from spending half the night on the hard wooden planks.
Swearing, she picked herself up. Lilith bestowed a glare on energetic Perseus. The Seti was quite the morning person.
Aching for something to take her anger out on, she spied the unfortunate Elizabeth Steele, still fast asleep in her cot.
Lilith stuck her foot under the edge of the cot and lifted, hard. "Up, up, princess," she hissed. "There's a lovely day waiting for you."
Elizabeth opened one furious, bloodshot eye with a glare that would have intimidated Xandra into submission. Lilith countered it with her own specialty, a burning glare that a fire Faerie would have been proud to wield.
The staring match lasted for a good few minutes, until Perseus reminded them of the time with an impatient sigh. Elizabeth primly stood up and dusted her brown trousers off. Lilith turned on her heel and swept to her side of the room to pull on her black boots. They primped in silence, before Elizabeth casually said, "I heard you fall out of your bed last night. Can you do nothing right?"
Lilith spun around furiously. "And yet you failed to wake me up so I could get back in it, and now I'm aching to Virtupets and back!"
Elizabeth shrugged. "You just went right on sleeping, Miss Ferrars. It would have been a shame to wake you."
"Sorry to trouble your shame, Lizzie." Lilith's voice sounded lethal.
Elizabeth's superior expression shifted to something more of grief at Lilith's words. Then, noticing Lilith was still looking at her, she hid her emotion behind a scowl, so quickly that Lilith began to think she might have imagined it.
Elizabeth swept out of the room. Lilith sighed. All the pleasure of a good, burning rage disappeared when the victim baffled the one raging. She picked up a comb and began untangling her unruly black hair.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Steele had stopped in the corridor outside her cabin. She leaned her back against the splintery wall, then slid down and hugged her knees to her chest. Lizzie. That was what Anna had called her. The thought of her twin sister sent another wave of pain through Elizabeth. She didn't cry, though. She hadn't cried since that awful day when Anna was murdered.
Henry Chum groaned. Not too loudly, just enough to indicate that he was bored beyond death to the people sitting nearest to him. Lilith, still not quite over her morning rage, just raised her eyebrow at him scornfully over the rim of her mug of black coffee. Old Phil, who seemed to be of the people who were at their best in the morning, was telling a rather tedious tale with great enthusiasm. Tedious, but really not that bad, once you forgot how slowly the plot was progressing.
"So, me an' Threelegs stopped at Tyrannia after a bit. An' I tell ye, the Tyrannians are the most unciv'lized beings in Neopia! They would go to their friend's fune'ral, all solemn-like, and then after a while they'd dig up 'is bones to pick their teeth with!" Old Phil slapped his leg in mirth, and everyone else chuckled.
Sam was listening to the Gelert's story very carefully. He wanted to learn as much as he could about all the other lands of Neopia. Now that his seasickness had passed, and with miraculous speed, according to Lucille Harmond, he decided to give the ocean another chance.
Around midday, there was no sign of Mystery Island. None, that is, until the Captain, on the quarterdeck, just happened to glance at the bow and noticed a landmass looming in the distance. He frowned, then went and stood below the main mast.
"Mr. Chum!" he called up, to where Henry Chum was on lookout duty in the Crokabek's nest.
"Sir?" came the reply, floating down in an unconcerned way with the wind.
"Get down here, man!"
Henry climbed down the mast, with remarkable speed for a species with no fingers. "Did ye not happen to spy that there continent from yer post?" the Captain berated, pointing in the general direction of Mystery Island.
"Spy it I did, sir."
"So why didn't you give a shout, man? Ye were probably gazin' at it fer a good hour!" Anger, Henry observed, seemed to bring out the Captain’s piratical accent.
"Well, sir, I didn't see the use of pointing out an island to everyone. Really, how would it help in any way?"
"That's not the problem 'ere! Lookouts is supposed to do just that: look out fer the rest of the crew, 'specially if'n he spots a bloomin' island!"
Henry frowned. The Captain looked quite red in the face. "I'll keep that in mind, sir," he said, in a tone that suggested he would do just the opposite, as he began to climb back up.
"See that ye do!" the Captain yelled at his receding figure, not quite sure what that had accomplished. Then, to the rest of the ship, he announced, "LAAAAND HOOOOO!"
Lilith Ferrars had found herself with nothing to do. The course was mapped out, her room was clean, she dreaded stepping into the kitchen... and even staring at the hypnotic waves was starting to lose its charm. So, she had fetched a scrap of paper and a pencil from her pack and was drawing Old Phil, in all his faded glory, while Perseus ran around the deck to stretch his legs. The stooped old Gelert looming over the wheel made quite an enchanting picture, and when you added a stormy backdrop with lashing rain, the effect was quite pleasing.
Sitting on an old barrel, Edwin Chum was playing a fiddle. It was a dramatic piece that helped Lilith envision her scene. The mutant Bruce managed to coax chilling, delicate, and wonderful notes from the old instrument.
Lilith was carefully drawing the wrinkles in Old Phil's trousers when Captain Harmond's shout came. It snapped her out of the drawing, and she tucked it in her pocket to finish later. Lilith and Perseus joined Sebastian, Edwin, and Mrs. Harmond at the bow to see the approaching island.
To be continued...