The Merchant's Mayhem: Part Eight
The cousins almost tripped on the roots of trees or their own two feet as they sprinted back to the port. They hadn't the faintest idea if Ulf was gaining on them, but they acted like he was so they could push their bodies to run faster.
"Are you sure this is the right way?!" Marcilli cried out as she followed Elrique over logs and through bushes.
"Positive! It's just up ahead!"
The Silver Kazeriu finally appeared in the distance. The ramp was still lowered and Arwman was watching from it. Upon seeing Marcilli and Elrique, he began to bark orders at the crew to lower the sails.
"Almost there! We can make it!" she said between gasps.
Their footsteps pounded against the wooden dock. They scrambled up the ramp, prompting the awaiting crew to raise it once they collapsed onto the deck. The sails were already lowered, and with the anchor raised at an alarmingly rapid pace, the Silver Kazeriu was on its way to leaving the dock. Ulf was too late, and he stayed on the edge of the dock.
"You'll be branded as pirates! All of you!" Ulf roared. "Don't even think about returning! Every merchant will know who you are and you'll be locked away if you're ever found!"
Elrique sprawled on his back and sighed. "Good thing he thinks my name is Winston."
Ulf was furious, no doubt. And there was also no doubt that his accusations were going to ruin Marcilli's reputation as a merchant. But that, at the present moment, was the least of her worries. "Keep sailing until we can't see the port," Marcilli wheezed.
All was silent until Marcilli felt like they were far enough from the shore. "Throw the ladder overboard," she ordered a nearby Sicrax who hastily complied. Marcilli clutched the two talismans in her hand and slowly extended it over the side of the ship. "By Fyora, I hope this works."
With that, she released the chains and the cursed talismans fell from her hands and to the ocean. She held her breath and waited for any sound that would indicate her parents had been freed.
Frantic splashes and gasps echoed through the night. "Ahti! Ahti, help!"
"Parlow?" a male called out. "Hang on, Parlow!"
"It worked!" Marcilli gasped before leaning over the railing. "Mother, Father, it's Marcilli!"
"Marcilli?" her father called out happily before hacking up salt water. "Where are ye?"
"Grab the rope ladder that's in front of you, if you can see it!" she cried out. "I'll have it pulled up!"
Once the Draiks had a hand on the ladder, Arwman and a few others hoisted it up like they had for Clauret. In the Shenkuu darkness, they heaved until Marcilli's parents reached the top of the ship and were helped over the railing. They collapsed on the deck, both on their hands and knees and coughing up the last of the salt water stuck in their throats. Marcilli's crew watched on in amazement but kept a respectable distance.
"What happened?" the shadow Draik asked, but as he glanced over to his side, he nearly fell in shock. Marcilli's mother was shaking, body thin and nimble. "Parlow!"
"Ahti..." Parlow wept in pain as her husband scrambled to hold her.
"You're free from the talismans," Marcilli smiled weakly as her parents rose to face her. The darkness could not hide their faces of dismay.
"Oh, Marcilli..." Parlow murmured. "Me daughter... ye saved us."
"Well-" Marcilli began to explain the situation but was stopped when her parents raced over to hug her.
"Thank ye, dear," Ahti whispered.
"What was it like?" Marcilli questioned. "Being trapped in there?"
"Black... just black. But voices 'round the clock..." her mother shuddered. "Felt like me body be lost an' me mind be spinnin'."
"Don't think 'bout it, hun," Ahti comforted her.
"Geez, Auntie Parlow, Marcilli has your eyes."
The voice made the pirates snap to attention. Marcilli's father Ahti withdrew his sword from his holster and held it to the intruding Krawk's throat. "Scoundrel! Traitor! Yer me nephew and ye curse me an' yer aunt? Are ye MAD, Elrique?!"
Her father was full with rightful vengeance, but Marcilli was not about to let the confrontation escalate. "Father, put your weapon down. Elrique was the one that stole you back. You have no reason to hurt him."
Elrique shrugged nonchalantly, even though his uncle was moments away from slicing him up. "You can't blame them for being so angry. The last memory they have of me isn't a pleasant one."
"Elrique! What were ye thinkin'?!" Parlow pleaded. "Cursin' us like that?"
Arwman narrowed his eyes. "His name is actually Elrique?"
Arwman was clearly not on the same page. Marcilli was about to explain, but Elrique had gently pushed down the sword and stepped forward, bowing in the direction of his relatives. "I'm sorry, Aunt Parlow and Uncle Ahti. Please find it in your hearts to forgive me."
"In time will yer aunt and I even think o' doin' such a thing," Ahti scowled before turning his attention to his daughter. "Ain't this yer ship, Marcilli?"
"Yes, we're on the Silver Kazeriu."
"Ah." He nodded. "Yer still a merchant?"
Ahti gripped her shoulder but then pulled her in for an embrace. "Hun... we're proud o' ye. Even if yer a trader."
"Thank you." Her smile was weak. "You two need to rest. You look absolutely exhausted, and rightfully so. I'll have Hank lead you to some spare rooms."
Hank popped up out of nowhere. "Right this way, Mr. Ahti and Mrs. Parlow."
"Where were the spare rooms when I came on board?" Elrique muttered, but his reflection went unanswered.
Arwman came up behind her. He rested his talon on her shoulder to signal that he was there for comfort. "What now?" he queried.
"Well, we can't go back to Krawk Island."
He genuinely seemed surprised that returning was not an option. "Why not?"
"By the time we dock there, word would have gotten out that we're all 'pirates'." Marcilli sighed. "Everyone will be out looking for us. Krawk Island merchants don't take kindly to those that turn into raiders that target their ships."
"There's nowhere else for us to go," added Arwman.
That was when Elrique perked up with what he considered to be a genius idea. "How would you feel about staying in Qasala?"
"No, it isn't. We'll repaint the Silver Kazeriu and give it a nice facelift. And we'll give all of you a fresh new look."
The proposal was outrageous... so outrageous that it was borderline genius. "Why do this?"
"I'm the cause of all of this. I feel bad, surprisingly enough. But it'll be fine. All of you can work for me. You'll still be sailing, I promise. I've got a place for anyone to stay at my mansion. It was formerly the spare Qasalan royalty home, so you know it's luxurious. And I pay very handsomely, if that sways your opinions."
Marcilli shook her head. "We'll drop everyone off at Krawk Island. None of you are forced to accept the offer-"
"I accept." Arwman nodded.
"Me too," Hank chimed in as he returned from helping Marcilli's parents.
Each of Marcilli's crew came forward to take up Elrique's proposal. Even Sicrax, who was well set in his ways, was completely open to the drastic idea.
"I trust you all are loyal, as Marcilli only hires the best. But now we just need confirmation from the captain."
Eager eyes were now focused on Marcilli.
"We've come this far. Why stop now?"
Before setting sail to Qasala, the Silver Kazeriu brought Marcilli's parents to their homeland of Krawk Island. The ship's anchor dropped far away from the shore, so that the sandy beaches and green vegetation looked like gold and green strips sandwiched against the clear blue sea. Marcilli only told her parents that they needed to return to Krawk Island and could not continue on with her, not knowing when they would be seeing each other again. Most parents would have been devastated that they would have no way of knowing when they would see their child next, but for the pirates, it was just another chapter in their unpredictable sea-plundering lives.
"Do what ye need to do, Marcilli," her father had said before embracing her. "We love ye very much."
Parlow the pirate Draik kissed her daughter on the forehead. "Best o' luck, me love. Make yer mama proud," she encouraged and gave hint of a sad smile as she looked into the pair of ruby eyes that were identical to hers.
As Marcilli watched her mother and father row a small dingy to the shores, her crew was preparing to depart. She had no clue if Ulf would return and try to imprison her parents once again. If he did, the Draiks would be well prepared to face him.
Or so she hoped.
But her worries were dispatched and the faint memories briefly set to the side. "Onward to Qasala!" Elrique ordered.
"Hey now!" Marcilli nudged him out of the way but began to laugh. "Who made you captain?"
The smooth white walls of the enormous mansion loomed over the desert sand, casting a giant shadow. Every royal detail from when King Jazan and Queen Nabile owned this home was present; the golden outlines around the windows, the gleaming roof, and the royal emblem carefully etched into the towering doors distinguished the royal getaway home from others. It could very well have served as a palace.
"Welcome to my home, everybody!" Elrique announced as the merchant crew entered his elegant lobby.
A Peophin servant waiting by the staircase bowed to Elrique. For a brief moment, Marcilli swore that a look of horror was on her face at the sight of the abundance of guests. "Sir, shall we prepare a feast for your guests?"
He casually waved the inquiry away. "Not just a feast. Get others and prepare fifteen spare rooms by evening. For now, some appetizers in the grand hall will do."
"Certainly." The servant bowed and went off to fulfill Elrique's requests.
Marcilli approached Elrique's side. "Elrique, this is insane."
"Indeed it is! Going without a hearty meal for this long is preposterous. I bet you're all starving, as am I, but before we feast... come with me." He pointed a finger to the hallway.
"Not what I meant." Marcilli grinned and followed him to a lone closet in one of the hallways.
"I know I mentioned something about disguises... I've got just the look for all of you."
Elrique threw the doors open and stepped back so Marcilli could look inside. Once she did, she laughed.
"Aren't you just hysterical."
Elrique shrugged, more than satisfied with his idea. "You have to admit, it fits."
Four months. Four months since the freedom of her parents and the severing of the ties that made her a merchant. Marcilli had seen it all... no longer was she confined to the Krawk Island and Shenkuu trade route. She had diverged from that path and had accomplished so much more than she could ever imagine. Now she had returned to Qasala and entered the mansion of her cousin with her crew in tow, ready to unload all of the treasures that they had acquired.
"Four months sure go by quickly!" Elrique approached his cousin and hugged her. "How was the worldwide tour of Neopia?"
"Exhausting but fun," replied an exhausted Marcilli. "We raided more than a dozen ships."
"Krawk Island based?"
"Shenkuu, Terror Mountain, Faerieland, Roo Island..." Marcilli counted off the ships. "No Krawk Island. I'm not quite ready to face them. Boarding a Shenkuuvian ship was even a little bit hard for me."
"Considering your past, it's understandable." Elrique firmly nodded before motioning to the goods her crew was bringing inside. "What have you got here?"
"Everything you've asked for... and then some."
Serving Elrique was the least that Marcilli could do after what he did for her and the workers of the Black Scarabug. Elrique had countless paint brushes and potions from heists. Some of Marcilli's crew opted for a morphing potion, such as deck mate Ferdy the pirate Lupe who wanted something more valiant from his timid Moehog self. Arwman was one that stayed in his original form, as an Eyrie, but now a seemingly ruthless pirate. Even cadet Hank looked more cunning as a pirate Gelert. Marcilli also stayed a Draik, but became something that she never thought she would be, something that she used to curse at its mere mention.
"Call me crazy for not having a band of pirates in my faction sooner," mused Elrique.
Marcilli continued to admire her gray skin in the mirror, playfully poking at her new eye patch. "Call me crazy for being a merchant all this time."
Her self-admiration was short-lived as Elrique cleared his throat. "I know you've just returned from a week at sea, but tomorrow you must set sail for another mission."
"Of course, Elrique. Where to?"
"Your favorite and mine. Krawk Island."
The last time Marcilli was there, she had almost taken off Clauret's head. "I guess it's time to deal with them."
"Has the Black Scarabug already undergone maintenance?"
"As we speak."
Now that the former Silver Kazeriu had been repainted black, Elrique insisted that it be renamed to pay homage to the Desert that everyone now called home. Marcilli had immediately agreed, for the lighthearted Silver Kazeriu name no longer fit the ship that was now painted black. It was a drastic change indeed, but it was Marcilli's life now. And she could not have been more content.
"Arwman?" Marcilli yawned and sat up. She was certain that she was in her bed and that it was late at night. They would not have arrived at Krawk Island yet. Then again, she could have very well been in a dream. "What's wrong?"
"We're being attacked. It's an unknown ship with unknown occupants. They're boarding as we speak."
Marcilli sprang up from her bed and pulled her jacket around her nightgown. "Not while I'm here," she snatched her sword from her bedside and hastily followed Arwman out.
The icy air added to the surmounting tension that she was to face. A ship the size of the Black Scarabug was close enough that it barely scraped the black wooden panels. But that was the least of her concerns.
As she approached the deck, she found herself in the middle of a standoff between her crew and those from the invading ship. The enemies were pirates themselves, as Marcilli quickly noticed an unfamiliar pirate Yurble holding a lantern that emitted a glow off a nearby pirate Buzz. More shadowed figures that escaped the light were standing behind them as was one that had taken the front stance and was speaking.
"...all we want is your cargo. Comply with us and no one will have to get hurt," came a female voice.
That was all Marcilli had to hear. If one thing irked her, it was someone taking charge of her Black Scarabug. She threw herself into the gathering, sword pointed at the speaker as she angrily declared, "There will be no negotiating on MY ship!"
Marcilli slowly lowered the blade. Those eyes... she knew them anywhere. Her lips parted but no words came out. It was when the eyes looking back at her widened with disbelief that she found a way to speak.
To be continued...