Know Your Place
He flexed his long fingers lazily yet methodically and stretched out every vertebrae in his spine, keeping his eyes closed and softly humming to himself. The sun had barely risen and he was already on the docks, like a good Island sailor ought to be. His blue pants were worn and patched, he also wore a horizontally striped white and green shirt. His feet were bare as befit a true sailor. Only captains and idiots wore shoes on deck in his opinion. He stretched forward and let his hands touch the lukewarm sand as he relaxed the muscles in his lower back. Stretching was one of the essential components of having a good day, along with a sturdy breakfast. These would allow Haroee, the Island Nimmo, to survive another day tending the main sail and manning the crow's nest under a blazing and merciless sun. He could almost taste the salt of the sea spray as he imagined himself on the boat, the muscles in his back and arms working furiously as he would be bringing in the ropes and forcing the sail to do his bidding. He stepped onto the short dock, squatted and reached a hand into the water to spray his face with a handful of salty drops.
Haroee had done this very same ritual every morning for the past forty years; every morning he set sail. When he'd started working on boats he'd only been a lad, helping out a few days a week, literally earning his sea legs on every voyage, but he'd loved it. It was his uncle Arstaa who had thought him everything he knew today about the sea and how to sail a ship. Well, ship might have been a big word, Haroee thought, as he looked at the one moored at his feet. A glorified dingy with stabilizing outriggers and a colorful sail would have been a more accurate description. Having crossed the tumultuous sea between Mystery Island and Krawk Island for the past thirty years on just such a craft, Haroee knew that appearance didn't matter. He trusted this particular boat. It had lasted for five years without being smashed on the shallows or being attacked by an actual band of pirates. This was a lucky boat. He looked at the deck which was crammed with rough wooden benches destined to seat the passengers.
Today would be exceptionally busy. It was market day over on Krawk Island, meaning the more stout inhabitants of Mystery Island would venture across the sea to snoop through Krawk Islands' exceptional goods offered up for trade. Haroee pulled his frayed blue hat over his eyes and lowered himself into the boat carefully. His long broad feet softly brushed the wooden surface of the deck, almost timidly, it was the very first conversation of the day between him and the vessel. The water was slightly restless today, the boat rocked to its impatient rhythm and every now and then Haroee felt the spray of the sea on his face. Even at this early hour of the day the heath was almost unbearable and he welcomed the fresh humidity of the ocean. Soon, though, his neck and back would be exposed to the relentless sun as he would toil to get his passengers safely to their destination. Haroee knew better than to complain. As a young Nimmo he might have moaned and hung his head at the prospect of a long day of hard work. Although, Haroee thought, if he were still doing the same job he did back then, he would be moaning. Days and days, hours and hours, minute after second after minute of cleaning fish. He may have loved the sea, but being stuck in fish bowels all day long was being a bit too intimate with the ocean and it's creatures for his taste.
As he shuddered inwardly, a first passenger made her way to his little boat. Naturally, the captain of this stout vessel, his captain, would only deign to board the vessel after the last passenger had squirmed into his or her seat. Thus, the task of overseeing the safe seating of all passengers fell to Haroee. He jumped to his feet and extended a callused and bony hand towards the rather portly and stout Cybunny lady attempting to not fall face first into the boat. This proved to be quite a task as she had to hoist up what seemed to be no less than five skirts before she could free a leg and lower it onto the deck. Finally, after a lot of pushing, tugging and puffing, the "lady" had sat herself down in the shadow of the main sail and was fanning herself with an old edition of the Neopian Times, her chest heaving rather alarmingly. Haroee thought she might have a fit and mechanically started going over the emergency procedures in his mind. Soon enough, though, he had to interrupt these thoughts and welcome another passenger.
You often had strange folk boarding the smaller boats to and from Krawk Island. Fewer questions were asked by the crew. As long as passage was paid for and passengers kept to themselves during the journey, the captain allowed anyone on board. This second passenger was a very good example of "anyone". His face and hands were covered in graying bandages and it seemed as if some green liquid had seeped through them giving him a strange camouflage look. Haroee instinctively held his breath as the Neopet stumbled by him and sat himself in the far left corner of the boat. By what he could see of his build and the shape of his eyes, which were visible through a narrow slit in the bandages, he appeared to be a Kacheek. Haroee cleared his throat loudly and carefully wandered over to the new passenger to collect the fee. The Kacheek rummaged in the pockets of his long black coat and extricated the exact amount of Neopoints. Haroee touched his cap in sign of thanks and went back to his seat and started uncoiling rope. It wasn't his business to wonder about that mysterious Kacheek. It wasn't his business to wonder about the bandages, about the purpose of his voyage, about anything really. Haroee shrugged and put it out of his mind. Soon his fingers were working the rope nimbly, tying it in complicated knots only a real sailor might achieve. Half an hour went by like this, Haroee tying knots, the Cybunny lady reading the Neopian Times, the mysterious Kacheek staring at the ocean.
"A little help, please," called a voice from the dock. Haroee sprang to his feet and was subsequently passed a large and heave trunk and a loudly wailing Baby Bori. "Thanks," said a large Skeith, mopping his brow with a handkerchief. "A challenge it was, carrying the trunk and him!" he said, indicating the Baby Bori now cooing and observing Haroee with big eyes. "I'll take him back now," said the Skeith as he handed over some Neopoints. Within the next five minutes five more passengers boarded the boat: an elderly Techo male and female, two young Gelerts and a very young and pretty Ixi female. Soon enough Haroee could see his captain waddling down the dock. Captain Clover was a very tall and very fat Pirate Lupe. Retired from his days of scavenging and general piracy, he had bought himself a nice little hut on one of Mystery Island's beaches. He had started up this small transportation enterprise to ensure he would always have enough funds to buy an ample supply of Grunion Fruit Grog, his all-time favorite. Barnard Clover tucked his thumbs behind his belt and surveyed his full boat with an appreciative smile.
"Off we go then, Haroee!" he called out merrily over the chatter of his passengers, jumping aboard, making the boat rock and startling said passengers.
"Your attention, please," he bellowed, striding towards the ship's helm and stroking his large handle-bar mustache with a finger. "We shall shortly be taking off. Might I ask you all to remain seated for the entire duration of the journey. Oh yes, in case of a pirate attack, please note there are sabres stored in the casket at the front of the ship, should we have need to defend ourselves. Thank you for travelling with us."
Haroee pulled up the anchor, loosened the rope from the cleat, and pushed the ship away from the dock before hurrying to the sail and comply to Clover's bellowed orders. Before long they were out in the open water and could no longer see Mystery Island on the horizon. The sea stretched out in front of them like a blue canvas, unusually quiet now, without a ripple on the surface, except for those created by their very own ship. The Island Nimmo climbed up to the crow's nest and peered across the ocean, his hand shielding his eyes. Depending on the favor of the sea breeze it could take them an hour and a half or up to four hours to complete the crossing. He understood why the passengers were bothered if it took more time, but he didn't feel that way. Being out at sea like this, sitting high on the crow's nest or tending to the sails, felt more like home than any bit of land or island could ever make him feel. He looked down and could see Captain Clover taking a swig from his flask, the passengers talking in hushed voices, the sails billowing softly. Haroee could not imagine any other place he would rather be.
The sun was coming down hard as he clambered down the mast and started handing out umbrella's to the passengers as they couldn't take refuge from the heat below deck. This was because of another little moneymaking idea of Clover's. The hulls of the ship were usually full to bursting with wooden crates packed with undisclosed goods that tended to find their way to some dark alley at Warf Wharf. Haroee shook his head disapprovingly but was very grateful that Clover kept him out of these dealings. He cared not for wealth or riches. The only real wealth according to him was fresh air and a bit of salt water. The only thing he truly desired to do was to work on a boat without having a care in the world. This suited Captain Clover very well for he knew that his trustworthy sailor kept his mouth, ears and eyes tightly shut.
Then, Haroee saw it, coming out of nowhere, a schooner that was unmistakably heading towards them. He let out a long high-pitched whistle. Clover, who had once again been taking a swig from his flask, spat out a mouthful of green liquid and looked livid at the sight of those approaching sails.
"Right!" he bellowed to the passengers. "Women and children go below, men, take your pick in the weapons chest at the front of the deck." There were terrified screams, sounds of scuffling and scraping as everybody got to their feet and stumbled over luggage and legs. Haroee locked himself below deck with the women and children to ensure they remain calm whilst the male Neopets armed and braced themselves to defend life and property. Too soon they could feel something smashing into the hull followed by an awful lot of yelling and thundering footsteps. The horrible clink of metal on metal was almost unbearable to the hidden passengers.
"Why don't you go and help!" hissed a reproachful voice at Haroee who had found himself a rope and was absentmindedly tying knots.
"It's not my place," he said serenely.
"Not your place!" roared the portly Cybunny. "Aren't you part of the crew? Aren't you a sailor? What good are you down here. You should be up there, protecting the ship and the Neopets brave enough to defend themselves!" There was a general murmur of assent coming from the other women.
"It's not my place," Haroee repeated calmly. "This is between me and my captain; he promised me I wouldn't have to fight."
"B-but-" spluttered the Cybunny.
"He promised," he repeated slowly. "It's not my place. I am not violent."
"What are you saying exactly? If they barge in here and hit you, you won't resist?" she asked incredulously.
"No. I'm not violent."
"And what if they attacked us?" She gestured at the frightened women and children, huddled together.
"Do you imagine a skinny Nimmo like me is going to hold off a bunch of merciless pirates?"
"Well... I-I never-" she said weakly, staring at Haroee in disbelief.
No more was said. The boat rocked uncontrollably there were still bangs and scrapings to be heard. After a while the noises died out and it was eerily quiet until Captain Clover poked his head down the trap and announced them the danger was over. He invited everyone back on deck for a swig of grog to celebrate. Soon enough they were on their way again and Haroee crept back up the mast with glowering looks following all the way up.
People are so gullible, he thought. But it wasn't his place to say anything. It wasn't his place to tell the people who were handing over extra Neopoints as a generous tip to the heroic Captain Clover that it was a good acquaintance of Clover who "attacked" the ship. Or that their swords were made of wood. Or that they would be receiving 50% of the tips. Or that real pirates would have burned down the ship and taken everything without any mercy. It wasn't his place.