The Merchant's Mayhem: Part Five
"Look, Daddy!" Felicia pointed out towards the sea. "It's another ship!"
The windless day on the open sea was not pleasing Ulf. Not even the radiating sun set at the highest point in the cloudless sky made his spirits soar with delight. His merchant ship would go at half the speed that it normally would if strong winds grazed the dark blue sea. But if one thing could cheer him up, it was his daughter that would occasionally accompany him on his journeys.
"Indeed it is, my dear." He tousled her hair and smiled. Ulf was impressed at his young daughter's interest in life at sea. Maybe one day she would take over his trade route. But for now, he was going to allow her to dream whatever she wanted to dream.
"Is that one of your friends?"
Ulf followed his daughter's gaze. A speck on the horizon was growing at a rapid rate. "I can't tell from here, dear," Ulf replied. He waited a bit, putting a hand on his daughter's shoulder who was hugging his leg.
"Captain!" a wavering voice bellowed from the crow's nest. A Grundo was observing the approaching ship through his golden telescope, but once he dropped his arms to his side and saw his face, Ulf knew what was about to happen.
"Felicia, go wait in my quarters," he ordered as gently as he could.
She squinted in confusion at her father who was not looking at her. "But I wanna stay with you."
"Felicia, I'm not kidding! Leave at once!"
"Okay," Felicia sulked and scurried off to obey her father's wishes.
It hurt him to speak to his beloved daughter in such a manner, but he could not have her on deck. But what was about to happen was no place for his daughter. Ulf approached the ship railing and braced himself for what was to come. His ship was not going nearly fast enough to escape the oncoming vessel, and both were about the same in size. And as it came into view, the skull-and-crossbones woven into the black flag that was waving signaled that they were not there to make friends.
Cybin had rounded the corner and stood by Ulf's side. "Is it... is it really them?"
"I'm afraid so."
"How many are there?"
"More than the five of us."
The minutes ticked on and on, as if he was watching a perilous sight in slow motion. The pirate ship approached Ulf's merchant ship and had slowed down by that time. He could point out various faces of pirates eager to board.
A shadow Draik clad in dark grey pirate gear leaped off the railing and onto Ulf's ship. His sword was drawn, but he was grazing over the sharp blade with his fingertips. Other members of his crew followed suit, climbing on board with swords by their sides and daggers clenched between their teeth.
"Where ye headed, mate?" The ringmaster Draik grinned. He was one of wealth, but it was clear that the ocean was his home.
Ulf glared at the intruders. "No place that concerns you pirates."
"Ah, but it does." He smirked. "Now that yer ship is under me control, I needa know where yer headed. Fail to cooperate will end in cannonballs sinkin' yer ship. Ye get it?"
"Is cargo all you want? I haven't much," Ulf confessed before adding, "You're wasting your time here!"
"Oh, am I?" the pirate mused with a devilish grin. He extended his sword, pointing it in the opposite direction past Ulf.
Ulf whipped around to the sight of his daughter being held back by a female pirate Draik. Felicia must have peeked out of his room, because now the pirate had taken her and was holding her against her will. Felicia tried to squirm out of her hold, but the raider refused to relent. She was whispering in her ear, attempting to soothe the troubled young soul and convince her that the woman taking her could be trusted. Ulf's eyes widened and he impulsively lunged forward to save her, but not before he felt a sharp blade at his throat.
"Uh huh, this ain't goin' down as easy as ye'll like."
"Unhand my daughter!" he ordered through gritted teeth.
A menacing hiss was his reply. "No chance o' that, mate."
Pirates were scattered along the deck, ripping open secret doors and tearing open crates to acquire as much goods as they could. But Ulf kept his sights on Felicia and the pirate that was now lifting her up in her arms. In one swift leap, the Draik had landed back on the pirate ship and gently placed Felicia on the dock. The Tonu frantically scrambled to the pirate ship's railing, sobbing and reaching her arms out to her father. "Help me!" she pleaded. "Please, help!"
The blunt handle of the shadow Draik's sword came in sharp contact with Ulf's temple as he was knocked unconscious. And when he would awake, his goods and personal valuables would be long gone. And that pirate ship that Felicia had been taken on would be nowhere in sight.
He had never felt so powerless.
"Please listen to me! I'm trying to work with you here!"
Ulf appeared to be in a daze. He abruptly snapped out of the trance and glowered.
"The next time you return to Shenkuu, bring Felicia. If you do not, then these talismans are forever mine."
Ulf stormed off into the darkness without another word. Cybin's eyes seemed to plead with Marcilli to listen to him. "Please don't follow us," he said as gently as he could. "I don't want to have to hurt you."
"Turn around and walk in a straight line and you'll be back at the port." Cybin said before disappearing himself. And with that, Marcilli was left to follow his order and wander in the dead of night back to the Kazeriu. Her mind was blank from that moment until she escaped the forest and ended up in the clearing, with the Kazeriu appearing ahead of her.
If she could guess, Arwman was up and waiting for her to return. He must have heard her footsteps on the dock, because an Eyrie silhouette was waiting at the top of the ramp.
"You're back safe and sound." He grinned after the Draik slunk over to him, but immediately frowned when he noticed her uncomfortable stance. "Marcilli, what happened?"
"Ulf and Cybin cornered me in the forest," she whispered. "My parents won't be freed unless I bring Felicia back to Shenkuu."
Arwman could outline the immense distress on her face. "You need to rest. I'll be in charge of the departure tomorrow morning."
"Thank you," Marcilli replied, though she did not know how she was going to be able to sleep after all the information that she had learned.
The captain slept until late in the afternoon just as the ship was approaching Moltara. To take her mind off Felicia and the talismans, she alternated her time between paperwork and inspecting the ship. She spoke to her crew at a minimum, which was a stark contrast to her usual chatty and inquiring self. Arwman kept checking on her to make sure that she was fine, but he knew that she was anything but content.
"Good afternoon, Sicrax," Marcilli remarked to the tenured Jetsam.
"Hey there, Captain. Are you feeling better?"
"Slightly." She shrugged.
"I see. Let me know if you need anything."
The rest of the trip was a blur until the actual arrival at the island.
"Land ho!" cried Bo the coxswain. Sure enough, the shore of Krawk Island was beginning to come into view.
"Keep the money on the ship for now," Marcilli told Arwman as he stood next to her and observed the ocean view. "I can't imagine how we'll move all of the bags inconspicuously."
He nodded. "Absolutely."
The dock was always crowded with merchants and their crews unloading goods, performing ship maintenance, or organizing groups to grab a drink at the Golden Dubloon. Marcilli had only one objective in mind, and that was to locate a particular Grarrl wearing a black trench coat. It did not take long before he was located, as disheveled black trench coats were not the outfit of choice for the polished Island merchants.
Marcilli wove her way through her busy crew and stormed down the ramp. Her remark went heard by only Arwman as she hissed, "There's the scoundrel."
Having spotted the Silver Kazeriu first, Clauret stopped whatever he was doing and tried to scan for Marcilli. Once his eyes locked on her and saw that she was headed his way, he beamed.
"Miss Marcilli!" Clauret eagerly waved as she approached. "How did it go in Shenkuu – ARGH!!"
His eyes widened with fear and an undecipherable cry escaped his throat as Marcilli grabbed his jacket collar and pulled him down eyelevel to her. "You knew! You knew the ENTIRE time!"
"About what?!" a flabbergasted Clauret sputtered. It was one thing to get into an argument with another captain... it was another when that captain was half his size.
Marcilli briskly peered to the sides of her to make sure no one was eavesdropping, and lowered her voice so that only he could hear her. "You knew all along that my parents were cursed in those talismans!"
Each passing moment caused other captains and their crew to stop what they were doing and take note. No one was going to intervene... not even Marcilli's crew. In fact, they were leaning over the Silver Kazeriu railing, making bets amongst themselves as to what was going to happen. Arwman had a satisfied smirk on his face, a taunting "good luck with her" attitude. Clauret was desperately trying to get himself out of the situation to prevent a catastrophic blow to his moral, but he was failing miserably. "I don't know what you're talking about! Those were just pieces of jewelry, or so I was told!"
Her red eyes gleamed with the possibility of striking fire, so that flames would at any moment crackle and dance around her irises. "Liar."
"I'm telling the truth, Miss Marcilli." Clauret's voice quivered. "All I ask is that you believe me."
Marcilli was impulsively ready to scoff but then caught sight of Clauret's extreme confusion. His eyes seemed to be telling the truth. A silent but reluctant nod from the captain gave cue that the Grarrl was cleared of wrongdoing. But he was still twisted awkwardly in the death grip of Marcilli, with his left wrist bent back and right elbow popped outward to defend himself against the vengeful Draik. She released her hold on him and waited for him to become composed.
"You have to know the person who gave them to you." Marcilli folded her arms across her chest.
"Oh, I do." He nodded satisfyingly. The crowds were dispersing and the jeering was being done farther away from the spectacle. "But not very well."
"You know this person? Clauret, you've got mere seconds to tell me everything you can."
"It was Winston the ghost Krawk who was visiting from somewhere in western Neopia," Clauret answered immediately, fearing for his life. "I swear on my life."
What Clauret had confessed was the last thing she ever expected to hear. Her mouth dropped open. "You're joking."
"Absolutely not! In fact, I just saw him. He said he was staying at that special suite in the Governor's mansion."
She let the other captain walk off. "You're free to go."
"Aren't you a kind soul!" Clauret's wink was accompanied by his toothy grin. He began to head into the direction of the Golden Dubloon, but not before calling over his shoulder, "If you stop by the Dubloon, your drink is on me!"
But Marcilli did not have the will to go celebrate another round-trip back to the island. Other thoughts were clouding her mind. If Clauret was right, then Marcilli knew all too well who had given the talismans to Clauret. Winston was simply an alias for someone who was actually a thief, the leader of a large faction whose members traveled all across Neopia to steal valuables. He was not a pirate however, as he himself did not travel by ship. The leader was not well known to the world, which was exactly what he preferred. But he was well known to Marcilli. More importantly, he was Marcilli's cousin.
And he was the one who had Felicia.
To be continued...