The Mermaid's Tale

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Hoist the Black Flag


Ships log Summer 1685

We have taken aboard a runaway slave; she is dressed finely for her kind she says she knows how to sail and wants to be a pirate captain. The crew were amused by her bravery, but I have made her quartermaster, we lost one to Spanish guns, and she seems good with numbers. She is to keep everyone from trying to take more than their square share.

She keeps speaking about mermaids, but we have no time for her fanciful tales we are bound for the spice route.

Akua and Hasani rose to the surface arm in arm as they bobbed their heads through the blue. They allowed their faces to draw together in farewell they could not be sad. The mermaid instructed because they were setting out on a new journey that would mean that they would be back together in no time at all. How fast had the time in the ocean passed till now? Would not the time on land travel with equal speed? They tried to reassure each other and in nodding agreement knew this was the right thing to do.

“Swim to the shore.”

“Now?”

“Yes now, you must find the harbour”. Hasani then gave a piece of black fabric to Akua

“ here find a ship that has this shape on its flag” Akua unfolded the material and looked at the white picture of a skull with a pair of crossed bones laid underneath.

“These are pirates, and they will make you a captain.”

Akua nodded and tucked the cloth into her belt, she had her instructions and tried to believe she and Hasani would be together again soon enough, but the goodbye grated her throat too hard to be spoken leaving Akua’s words to fail her. The Mermaid lowered her eyes as if to show her friend she understood and shared the struggle to part but Akua’s tears fell anyway. Hasani put her lips to Akua’s cheek to taste them,

“ See, they are salty like the sea, so now I know you will never forget me.”

Akua held her friends face I her hands “ I will miss you fish-girl” and kissed her as if to return the favour from all those years ago when it was The Mermaid who had given the kiss of life. Hasani knew if she did not let Akua go she would never have the courage to do so,

“Now you must go”, and with that, The Mermaid disappeared beneath the water.

The swim toward the harbour was an easy one for Akua but what slowed her down was the constant looks she gave over her shoulder to see whether Hasani had also swum off back home, their home. Akua now remembered being taken from her birth home and the sadness confusion and worry about seeing neither home again had her flailing she used all her strength to steady herself and he’d she missed The Mermaid swimming off, Akua’s eyes squinted their search. Then. There, she saw The Mermaid’s tail flip its familiar circle to dive, and Akua knew her mermaid was gone. She turned her head back to her journey ad as she neared the harbour she could feel the wood of ships and their barnacled hulls brush her skin. She pulled on a tether to find a dock and heaved herself in for the last few yards and gripped at the seaweed and slime of the rotten steps up onto dry land. Now the reality of being alone hit Akua hard. She had hardly ever walked on the hard ground, and her footing was uneasy she had no one’s hand to hold her steady as she tried to get used to the solid feeling beneath her feet and she tripped a few times and when she finally fell it was at least an excuse to cry again. She cried so much she could not see where she was walking and crashed into a passer-by.

“Oi slave watch where you’re going…”

Akua tried running, but she could not breathe for crying she took breaks between heaves to wipe her running nose. Why didn’t she just get back into the ocean and swim to Hasani, she’d be able to catch her up to her no time. Yellowfin. That’s who she remembers she was, but she felt so and alone without the mermaid.

Akua lent against a wall and looked up between sniffs and noticed a what thought must be a tavern from the smell of the ale. She had heard about these places. She knew she could definitely find pirates in one she walked and allowed the breeze to dry her face soon the familiar salty air made her smile as she remembered games with the mermaid teaching her how to play Pilolo and the complicated card games the mermaid had taught her.

She saw the Broken Wheel Inn and decided that this was a good place to start. There was a black flag on the lintel, and she wondered if she had been lucky enough to stumble upon pirates at first go. She need not have asked. The raucous noise inside answered her questions there were men and women on tables and they were all of them drunk or drinking. The smell of alcohol made Akua gag not that she didn’t drink, she did, but she drank pure, clean Gray salt wine and coral ale. This smelled like rotten wood. How would she ever survive on land without proper food and something nice to drink?

She went to the bar and doffed her hat can “ I will have rum.”

She remembered that’s what pirates drank

The barkeep raised and eyebrow and brought out a bottle that seemed to hold a demon it was smokey and stale the cork less popped than creaked

“Bottle or cup?

What did she think was best? She batted off her hesitation almost triumphantly

“Bottle!”

The maid standing to Akua’s side laughed loudly

“Look here lads the bottle on this slave what shall we say? Friend or rob?

“Rob!” shouted one of the crew from ‘The Scarlet Marauder’.

The cheer of agreement from the motley throng chilled Akua to the bone. She felt the small pocket knife The mermaid had given her when she was 13. it was keen and straight and could split a hair, but it was as much use as an envelope opener in such company. So she must stand her ground and hope it would not come to defending herself. then the First Mate from ‘The Hell Flower’ stepped up

“I say, friend, she is a slave and has already been robbed of freedom if she’s made her escape, she is as outlaw as anyone here. So. If she can drink the four if us at this table under it, we will let her alone. What say you runaway? Only the brave?”

Akua straightened her shoulders nodding

“Sounds like a fair fight” This time the cheers were for her.

Now you may have heard the saying drinks like a fish. Well, fish don’t drink anything, but mermaids, on the other hand, seem to have the stomach capacity of a killer whale , so it seems this idiom was modified over time to take care of those that do not believe in mermaids. a shame because it is decidedly true. anyway this means Akua was taught a thing or two about drinking and thought this would be a perfect opportunity to demonstrate this interesting skill.

Akua approached them with a palpable caution they all made cursory introductions and waved at the bar keep for rum what do they call you slave? What is your name?

“Akua.”

What was that?

Akua looked down hearing The Mermaid’s voice in her head she thought of the black stone heart “ Blackheart” she said more loudly, “I am called Blackheart.”

“Well, slave we are all blackguards” here said the First Mate to peels of laughter

Akua cleared her throat “ Black HEART.”

“ Oh begging your pardon Blackheart I’m sure we’ll let us see if your insides are like your name, the first draught to you drink up.”

Akua picked up the wooden shot cup brimming with an almost viscous brown liquid she saw her reflection in its ripples closed her eyes and knocked the drink passed her lips and turned the vessel over smashing down on the table to a roar from the watching brigands. The First Mate swiftly dispatched his draught the boatswain next who coughed to a jeer from his shipmate the quartermaster also woman who drank more slowly but her eyes pinned open, trained on Akua.

The Barmaid poured another so as to adjudicate the games all heads turned to Akua’s turn again, she did not disappoint and brought the drink up to her mouth with a smile

so you will be most welcome come aboard with me and see if the Captain wants you to stay with us.

Akua stepped aboard the Hell Star her eyes met with scorn The Captain had been reading maps for the route they were planned to sail and happened to be on deck

“Who’s this slave First Mate?”

“She calls herself Blackheart Cap’n she looks small, but she drinks like she has hollow legs.”

“ I see… come for are Blackheart.”

Akua moves with eyes darting and fists clenched

“How does a slave come by such glad rags and heavy purse?” says the boatswain

“Burglary.”

Came her smart reply with earned a laugh and Akua’s relief.

“That’s a chart in your belt are you a reader then?”

“No, I am a captain.”

Which scored more laughs but this time of teasing and disbelief

“ Oh aye? Is that so? How come you are so sure you are a captain? ”

“Why would I be anything else.”

The captain stepped forward and looked at Akua’s belongings and the away she was dressed more closely.

“ For sure, stripling why would you want to clean decks when you could walk them why sleep in the hold with all my rum when a cabin is clearly what you seek?

“ I am to be a captain one day.”

“Well, for now, the best place for an an escaped slave is in the crows, a look out you shall be”

“I have never been a slave and never will. I am as free as any of you.”

“ Aye and on this vessel, we are all free but you still need to earn your rank climb that rig, and when we put out we’ll see how you make for coming down again once afloat pitches your balance, eh?”

Akua jutted out her chin and folded her arms tight across her chest and widening her stance a little she spoke a little more loudly;

“ I can read.”

“Ah then..” the captain asked the 1st mate to hand over the ships log and manifest

“ Now the first mate here and the boatswain and the captain will not be fooled, so you read this, and if you can finish a page, you can have the bunk of the old quartermaster. If you can’t, we will throw you back into the brine without your map and less that coin purse. Do we have an accord?”

Akua bravely held out her hand to received the leather bound journal. She unwrapped its matted ties and brought it close to her face as she scanned the page she saw the writing was looped and scratchy and the ink blotted in careless splashes all of the yellowed paper, but she cleared her throat and read aloud;

Dated June 1685

This is the quartermaster’s cargo manifest it consists of a

Hold plan In areas zero to three alchemical supplies including medicinal alcohol

four to six silks and textiles, seven to nine exotic spice ten to twelve gold coins thirteen to fifteen gold articles sixteen to eighteen gem and jewellery, nineteen to twenty-one common foodstuffs, parenthesis keep near the door for the galley boy, twenty-two to twenty-four

Weapons and armoury,

Remaining hold is quartermaster stalls

Akua closed the book and held it aloft between her index and second finger pointing it in the direction of the Captain

“ Ha Ha look at this lass skin like ship’s tar but reads like a schoolteacher. She is the new Quartermaster, disagree?”

There were stout cheers, and the silence dissent was noted and ignored. Akua was crew but what did she know of being a Quartermaster and what more to the point had happened to the last one?

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