Phidianne and the Five Hundredth Dubloon: Part Three
“Third time’s the charm,” I thought, as my uncle’s pirated schooner, the Five Hundredth Dubloon, sailed away from the treasure island, with two fewer hands on deck. On the shore, my former captors, the evil pirates Gorkrin and Thorvin, cursed us and vowed revenge for marooning them.
I couldn’t resist waving my Hissi wings as they receded from view. “Don’t worry,” I called out. “There’s plenty of tasty Sardplant to eat. And hardly any reports of cannibals these days!”
Three times I had boarded my uncle’s schooner. The first time was when it was still a simple island ferry. I had just started working as a barista at the juice bar when a tsunami caused by Faerieland’s crash disabled the ship and left me unconscious in the water. If not for Tafiti, a friendly Camouflage Flotsam, I might never have survived. By the time I came to, Gorkrin had taken control of the ship and hoisted his pirate flag.
The second time was only hours later, when Thorvin captured me on the water and forced me back to the ship. Thanks to the intervention of the dashing Conor, a noble Pirate Krawk, and my friend Anneslace, a kindly and industrious Red Ruki, I was spared the worst of the cruel Captain Gorkrin’s displeasure. Gorkrin led us on a mission to unearth a buried treasure on a remote tropical island, where I proved my worth by using my native Islander knowledge of tropical plants and berries to provide a feast for the starving crew.
Conor located the treasure, which according to pirate tradition should have been split fairly among the crew, affording even the lowliest swabby a small fortune and Gorkrin, as Captain, a substantial one. But Gorkrin’s rapacity rivaled his cruelty. With Thorvin’s help, he tried to steal the treasure in the dead of night. His crew mutinied, and following the pirates’ code, elected Conor to be their new captain.
Captain Conor, dubbed “CaptConor” by his loyal crew, chose to maroon the two thieves – an act of mercy, as he would have been within his rights to consign them to the sword there and then. He showed wisdom in appointing the capable Anneslace to be the ship’s quartermistress, essentially equal in rank to himself. He showed justice by commanding that my rescuer Tafiti be unshackled. As for me, my culinary skills earned me a promotion from swabbing the deck to assisting the ship’s chef, a brawny Magma Jetsam named Sam, in the galley.
During the worst of Gorkrin’s punishments, I had promised to myself to survive this ordeal and somehow reclaim my uncle’s ship. So far, I had managed to survive, but the rest of my goal remained out of reach. I had reason to believe that CaptConor knew my secret, that I held a legitimate claim to the ship by right of blood, yet he gave no indication of surrendering the ship. I feared for my safety, for what king allows an abused pretender to the throne to lurk nearby, let alone prepare his food? But CaptConor’s honour was obvious to all, and I couldn’t help but trust him, even as I considered my next move.
Gorkrin had kept the treasure island’s location a close secret, but we seemed to be somewhere in the remote seas south of my home on Mystery Island. Unlike Gorkrin, CaptConor allowed us to trade with the other ships and small villages we encountered on the way. I was able to stock the galley with crucial provisions: Lemorans to prevent scurvy, Elppas to counter beriberi, and Blue Pepper as a preservative. Sam was pleased; the crew had never eaten so well.
I refused to debark at Mystery Island, even though I knew CaptConor would not have blamed me for leaving. Nor would he have called it desertion, as I had never formally signed the ship’s articles, making me an official member of the pirate crew. I clasped my tribal tiki and tried to tap into the wisdom of my ancestors. Every instinct told me to flee, back to safety, back to my old familiar world, but I had to see this through.
To my surprise and relief, my closest friends on board remained as well. “I came to Mystery Island for a little adventure,” laughed Anneslace, “I’m not expected home for a while, and I do like to keep busy.” She pulled me in for a hug. “Besides, Phidianne, we Annes have to stick together.” Sam insisted that he had signed up to be the master chef of the Five Hundredth Dubloon, and he intended to do just that.
As for Tafiti, he had been specially commissioned to accompany the party that swam down to trade with the Maraquans. Bless him, he even managed to get the one special item I requested: a gourmet sushi knife to replace the one Thorvin had stolen from Sam. I swear, I thought that salty old Jetsam was going to cry when we presented it to him.
Our next port of call was Tyrammet, where Anneslace hoped to procure Tyrannian Army Math Tools to aid the ship’s navigator. But even if we’d had them, we’d never have avoided the squall that suddenly rose on the horizon.
We should have been able to outrun the approaching storm, but it seemed to be chasing us down. And indeed it was, for it was no mere atmospheric phenomenon, but Neopia’s most mysterious realm.
It was our bad luck to run afoul of Lutari Island. At the best of times, Lutari Island gives conniption fits to navigators, who can’t abide an island that drifts about unpredictably. The last ship we traded with reported that it had recently been sighted off the coast of Altador, so we were unprepared to encounter it so far to the north.
Under normal circumstances, we would have been thrilled to run into Lutari Island. However, for months now, Lutari Island had been buffeted by the mischanciest of storms, which even the stoutest frigates can’t penetrate. Our schooner, designed more for speed than for heft, didn’t stand a chance.
When the call came for all hands on deck, Sam and I bolted from the galley. On deck, sailors were battening the hatches, and trying to secure the booms, which the winds were threatening to tear out of their goosenecks. On the mainmast, the cordage connecting the sails to the mast was whipping uncontrollably.
Whether it was pure luck, or my ancestors looking out for me, I’ll never know. But I arrived just as the rigging tore loose from the mainmast. I knew that without the sail, we’d have no chance of controlling the ship in this weather. I’d seen her taken down by a storm once before. On my family’s honour, I wouldn’t let it happen again.
If I’d had a lick of sense, I’d never have done it. But as the sail tore loose, I flew up the mast, coiled myself around it, and sank my fangs into the sail. Miraculously, the sail held. Soaked and blinded by the spray whipping around the rigging, I could barely hear the sailors shouting beneath me. With my one free hand I gripped my tiki and concentrated on holding on.
Abruptly, the rain and winds subsided. I opened my eyes. The crew had managed to steer us out of the Lutari storm. I went limp and barely glided back to the deck. CaptConor grasped my around my waist and held me up and I coughed water out of my lungs.
“That was perhaps the most foolhardy stunt I have ever seen. And you probably saved a number of good sailors’ lives doing it.” He spoke sternly, but with a rakish grin. I smiled weakly back. As the crew began the process of recovery, Sam escorted my back to my quarters and put me to bed.
The ship was in need of greater repair than we could effect on the open sea. The storm had also blown us far off course to the east, so CaptConor and Anneslace made the decision to head directly to the nearest land, Shenkuu. Its sails damaged, the ship tacked limply toward port.
It was at that moment that the attack came. Out of the southwest came a small sloop with an all-too-familiar pirate flag: the crooked gold Quiggle Sword of Captain Gorkrin. We never learned how he escaped his banishment, but somehow he had commandeered a small, quick vessel and had been following our trail, waiting for a moment of weakness in which to strike at us. He had found it.
CaptConor leapt into action. He ordered the ship to come about, in order to give the gunners the best aim with the cannons. With a horrible clamor, the two vessels exchanged fire. And, as luck comes to both the just and the unjust, the evil Quiggle managed one lucky shot. As the smoke cleared, and the deckhands raced to extinguish the weak tongues of flame on the wet planks of the deck, CaptConor slumped over the helm, struck by a pernicious piece of shrapnel.
The boatswain helped CaptConor to lie down on the deck. “He’s hurt bad,” muttered the Pirate Uni. “He’s got to get to sick bay immediately.”
CaptConor opened his eyes weakly. “Listen up, men, and ladies,” he said. “You need someone to take over as captain. It should be Phidianne.”
I froze, hardly believing my ears.
“She’s earned it.” He nodded off into unconsciousness.
Suddenly the air was filled with the sound of the crew chanting my name. I pressed my tiki against my throat.
Anneslace appeared at my side. “Gorkrin is between us and Shenkuu’s port. We can try to outgun him, but it’ll be extremely dangerous.”
“Get us out of their cannon range,” I said. “Wait a second. I’ll be right back.” As Anneslace relayed my orders, I flew straight up the mainmast and alighted on the crow’s nest. Then I saw it. Our one way out.
Rejoining the crew on the deck, I called for Anneslace, Tafiti, and Sam.
“Beggin’ yer forgiveness, Captain, ma’am,” said Sam, “why me?”
“You’re crucial to my plan, Sam,” I answered. “Look yonder.” I pointed to the northeast, where an icy, floe-covered passage stretched along the northern coast of Shenkuu. “We’re going to flee through the ice.”
“That strait is impassable,” said Tafiti. “There’s a reason the Central Neopians didn’t discover Shenkuu for so long. The arctic glaciers from Terror Mountain are in the way.”
“Not if we take out the ice,” I said. “Tafiti, I need you to round up all the Tuskaninnies, Bruces, and Lutari on board. All the strongest swimmers, who pack a punch underwater. Flotsams, Jetsams, Peophins, Acaras, Kikos, and Koi too. They’re going to shepherd the ice floes out of our way, and close them behind us.”
Tafiti considered this. “It might work,” he said, “but we’ll suffer severe hypothermia. Even the Christmas, Snow, and Ice pets can only take so much cold.”
Sam stammered, then finally spoke. “Phidianne – Captain – I’d help if I could. But I’m a Magma Jetsam. I can tolerate intense heat, but not the cold. I’d stick my hand in the fire for you, I swear, but I just can’t...”
I smiled. “That’s exactly what I want you to do, Sam.”
I explained my plan. A fire seemed to light in their eyes. “Let’s do it!”
Tafiti found no shortage of power swimmers willing to risk their lives. These were pirates; they lived for adventure, and the open sea, and if they had to die, they wanted to die fighting. Those who wouldn’t do it for me were eager to volunteer for CaptConor’s sake.
Tuskaninnies and Bruces may move awkwardly on land, but in the water, they are creatures of immense grace and strength. With the force of cannonballs, they hurled themselves at the floating chunks of ice. Not to be outdone, the other strong swimmers followed suit.
After each aquatic sailor returned to ship, near frozen, they were carried straightaway to the galley, where Sam was stoking the ship’s oven... from the inside. Glowing like a hot poker, he emerged, and wrapped each of those salty seafarers in a huge bear hug, imparting the oven’s heat safely to their chilled bones. Then, after a quick mug of revitalizing ErgyFruit Grog, courtesy of my Island bartending skills, they were ready for another volley. Some wag joked that he was the Sam after the ice jets, or Ice_Jetz_Sam, and it looked as though the new name was going to stick.
If spring hadn’t been coming on, we might never have stood a chance. But in a short time, a path just big enough for our schooner had opened. Metre by metre we advanced through the treacherous waterway.
The doors of the galley slammed open as Anneslace raced into the room. “Captain Phidianne, we have a problem,” she said breathlessly. “Gorkrin is following us through the ice. We can’t spare enough swimmers to close it fast enough.”
“That’s all right, Quartermistress,” I said. “I have a few more tricks up my sleeve.” I grabbed two special sacks from behind the counter and half-slithered, half-flew to the main deck.
I called the master gunner over. “Take these,” I said, “and fire them at eight o’clock,” meaning behind us and to the left. The master gunner squinted quizzically into the first sack, pulled out a red and green torpedo-shaped fruit, and nodded.
As the gunners were loading the fruit into the cannons, I grabbed a large square of torn sailcloth. Reaching into the second sack, I grabbed a handful of sweet, deep blue tetraberries as if holding a snowball. I smashed them into the sail and traced a large blue circle, then sketched two blue crossed bones in the middle.
The ship’s proper colors: the blue dubloon. The Five Hundred Dubloon Coin.
I flew up the mizzenmast, the mast closest to our pursuers, and made sure they watched me nail the makeshift flag into the wood. Nailing your flag was well-known among pirates as a sign of defiance, that under no circumstances would we strike our colours and seek truce or parley. Predictably, Gorkrin’s cannons fired, using my dubloon symbol as a target.
Had they had the chance to fire a second shot, they might well have found their mark. But we gave them no such quarter. Carrying out my orders, my gunners fired the ripe Rahketmelons into the glaciers lining the southern cornice of Terror Mountain. On Mystery Island, young Kougras play with Rahketmelons like especially powerful water balloons. The melons explode on impact. With the extra energy of the cannons behind them, the explosions caused an avalanche of snow and ice into the channel behind us. Within moments, Gorkrin’s ship was all but buried, frozen solid in our wake.
At long last, we arrived in the warmer currents north of Neopia Central, and landed on Roo Island. A mighty cheer went up as we sailed into the safety of the harbour. As we disembarked, a preternaturally chipper Yellow Blumaroo bounced past and said, “Never ever give out your password!” We collapsed with laughter, much to the poor Blumaroo’s confusion.
King Roo himself awarded us the bounty for having disabled Gorkrin’s pirate ship. His Royal Exchequer seemed none too pleased, but it was clear King Roo was not inclined to pay his treasurers much heed.
CaptConor made a full recovery in the warm Roo Island climes, and cheerfully allowed me to purchase the Five Hundredth Dubloon for, naturally, the sum of five hundred dubloons. Between his share of the buried treasure and King Roo’s reward, he was able to purchase and outfit a full frigate to continue his voyages in the “sweet trade” upon the five seas.
I returned to Mystery Island in triumph, with both my family’s ship and tiki intact. Upon receiving formal word from King Roo’s ambassador to Mystery Island, the Council of Elders officially declared me a Mystery Privateer, with all the rights and responsibilities appertaining thereunto. For a member of my caste, this was an historical event, and my village celebrated for a week.
The Five Hundredth Dubloon is once again a ferry, although she can still serve as a warship in times of trouble. My uncle still runs our little ferry across the great central sea, although now we offer service to Faerieland. I’ve mostly retired from the seafaring life, preferring to perfect my fruit juice mixology on land. But every now and then I’ll take the ferry myself, for old times’ sake, and work the juice bar just as I’m doing now. Can I freshen up your Thornata Juice? It’s an old family recipe. I promise it’s the best Thornata Juice you’ll ever have.
Special thanks to Gin (gin287) and BerryCute (xxcl4udi4xx) for the use of CaptConor and Ice_Jetz_Sam!