The Pirate Captain
I was brought over to meet the ship’s captain. She was of average height, but with a bearing that forced you to look up at her even if you were a head taller. Her eyes were a deep shade of brown that made you feel all the intensity of the world in her look. She looked a person in the eyes when she was talking to you, and you knew that she was listening and judging at the same time. She had long brown hair, two swords on her waist, knives visible in her boots and a large red lizard that was lying across her shoulders with a tail curled around her entire arm and…wings?!
Lizards do not have wings. “What is that?” I cried out in a panic.
The red lizard’s large head came up to look at me as if deciding if I would taste better roasted or raw.
The captain gave me an unpleasant smile, “This is Gae Bulg, my dragon.”
Dragon! She had a dragon…I had made a much more terrible mistake than I thought. Clearly they had saved me so the dragon could eat me.
“Don’t look so frightened, Celia, she won’t harm anyone…unless I ask her to…and I would like to see what your worth before I decide.” The captain said with a laugh.
I must have looked even more terrified when Catrin came closer to me and said, “Captain, let’s not scare her into jumping off the ship when we just got her here.”
“Too true, Catrin. Celia, you have nothing to fear from Gae Bulg. She only harms those who would harm me or my crew and as long as you stay clear of that you will be safe.”
I then looked more closely at the dragon… these people had dragons…dragons that were large and muscular. Gae Bulg was covered with large rounded scales, but instead of shining like a snake they were deep in color but dull so they didn’t reflect the light.
The dragon was long and stretched around the captain like a panther sitting in a tree waiting to strike its prey. I had no illusion that the calm of Gae Bulg was anything more than her listening intently to the sounds all around her.
The dragon was beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Her head lifted off the captain’s shoulder and seemed to nod at me. I suddenly felt that it would be proper to return the gesture, and I bowed gently. The dragon’s wings that had been raised above the head of captain when I approached now settled down against the dragon’s back so they were no longer visible to me. Its head was about the size of a dog, but it looked more like it came from a large cat. The front claws were holding onto the captain’s shoulders, with the long tail curled all the way down her arm, but although it seemed tightly coiled the dragon gave the impression that she could take flight quickly if necessary.
She was so different than the stories I had heard of huge dragons sitting in caves and protecting their treasures. I would never have imagined that real dragons are much smaller, but long like a snake yet still muscular and dangerous. Although, she did have the soft looking wings sticking up from her back like I imagined dragons would have.
“Is she heavy?” I asked the captain since the dragon seemed too large and muscular to do anything but weigh the captain down.
“Not at all. Gae Bulg has her own magic that allows her to stay with me without any strain on my part.
“You will have time to ask more questions later, but for now let me introduce myself. I am Captain Gawain and I am the leader of the Dragon Clan and the captain of the Aegir. You had better know now that things will be different aboard this ship. You are no longer a paid guest. Your passage on this ship will be paid for by your hard work and dedication.
The captain stared at me for a while, as I continued watching the dragon, as if she were searching me for something…some reason to take me off the ship. Watching the captain with the dragon around her shoulders and the swords at her waist, I suddenly felt that there was no way I was going back. Not after I had met Captain Gawain.
“You must know that now that you have left with us, you are one of us. The sailors and the mainlanders will consider you a pirate from here on out. You will sleep where will tell you and do the tasks you are assigned. You will learn to defend yourself from attack and if you perform your duties honorably you will be made a permanent member of this clan. We will not harm you, but you will be punished if necessary as is our way.
“Now I need your oath. By walking onto this ship you have chosen to join The Dragon Clan. Do you swear to honor and hold true to the Dragon Clan?”
In the midst of my terror about leaving what I knew behind to join up with a group of pirates the manners that Kitty had drilled into my head kicked in.
“Yes…um…captain.” I stuttered.
“What’s your full name?”
“Well, Celia Morgana, go with Catrin. I had heard news that you might become one of us from her.”
As I walked off with Catrin the surprise that she had suspected this of me made me stop my feet and forget to ask her more about the dragon.
“Catrin, what did the captain mean when she said that you had suspected this of me?”
“Well…ah…Celia, I noticed your ease with the movement of the sea and I saw the way you looked at the crew and the happenings on the Mirabel. I thought you suspected me and Pascal of something. You’re obviously quick minded in that you noticed my necklace and my clothes. I work hard not to give anything away when I’m playing sailor, so when the clan boarded the Mirabel I had one of the crew let the captain know that we might have someone to bring with us.”
“Oh! I had no idea what I was noticing.”
“You’re quite the clever lass and I had a feeling you would want to see what was happening once we began the raid.
“Now you need to prove yourself useful and I need to get on with my duties. I’m going to take you down to the galley so you can wash the dishes so the cook is ready for dinner.”
Magic, dragons and pirates! I was both terrified and intrigued. Everything I had been raised to fear was on board this ship. The pirates were taking me in and I was going to learn how to be one of them. I definitely needed more time to think the next time I made a huge decision.
Catrin took me to the kitchen and introduced me quickly to the head cook, Emmet, who was also a short man, like the cook on the Mirabel, which made me wonder if this was some quality ship captains looked for.
The kitchen was hot and crowded with people trying to make enough food for many hungry pirates. I was trying not to burn myself on the giant stove sent in the middle of the kitchen. It was set on tiles and sand and had all four sides with pots heating on hobs and ovens giving off the wonderful scent of baking bread.
The cook moved me over to the sink and showed me how to wash the dishes with salt water so they were clean. I was working with another pirate who smiled at me and was definitely happy to have some help. There were a lot of dishes.
His name was Sven and he had really light colored hair and was older than me by a few years.
“So, you’re Celia.” He said as he looked me over. “Everyone on the ship is talking about you. We never take on someone who was gently born like you. The captain sometimes takes on slaves as crew members when we find one of their ships, but this is the first time to have a fine lady. Although, I guess you are one of us now that you’re washing the dishes with me,” he said with a laugh.
“I’m just glad to be doing something familiar. I used to help Cook with the dishes back home since she was getting on in years and I certainly had the time.”
“Where are you from?”
“A small town on the mainland called Queenston. It’s really just a small village, or at least felt like that to me. I was on my way to see my parents when the ship was captured, but I feared that I wouldn’t be able to keep the secret of the raid and was so excited about the thought of adventure… but nowI don’t know what I was thinking!”
I was starting to feel a bit hysterical at my rash decision, but then Emmet shouted at me to, “stop that nonsense and get those dishes clean, missy!” So I went back to work.
Sven smiled at me. “Don’t worry about him, he likes to shout.”
With a quick pat on my shoulder from Sven we went back to work on the dishes.
Sven looked at me with sympathy, “There’s nothing to fear, Celia. You’re safe here and you’ll learn our ways. The magic protects us and keeps us safe. We aren’t all magic dealers, but those who are use it to help the Clan.”
As we were finishing the dishes Catrin walked in to collect me for a tour of the ship.
I looked at Catrin, who had changed into what I assumed were her regular clothes a vivid green shirt, dark green gloves, black pants and black boots with a wide cuff at the top. I found myself secretly hoping that one day I would have clothes as amazing as those.
As we began to walk around the ship and I was able to look at the crew and see the details of the ship I felt for the first time since getting on board that I could grow to feel comfortable here. I was still scared, but I kind of looked forward to being part of a crew and learning how a ship works.
I was following Catrin in awe, listening to her tell me about all the different parts of the ship and hoping I could remember everything and not get lost. She led me back up onto the deck and I was excited to learn about the sails and everything.
“Now, Celia, look up. This is the rigging, a network of ropes and sails that keeps this ship moving. Without the ropes and sails we would be dead in the water so they need to be constantly maintained. With three masts and many sails to manage, the Aegir requires several crew members to work throughout the day examining and repairing any damage that may occur. The crow’s nest and navigator’s nest are also up there. The crow’s nest is on the highest mast and that’s where the lookout sits to make certain we aren’t moving toward an unexpected island that’s not on the map as well as look out for both traders and enemies who we can take or may want to avoid.”
I got dizzy just looking up so high. I hadn’t really looked up at the sails on the Mirabel. I was too interested in what was happening on the deck. But to stand still and look up for a bit of time really made me feel the sea beneath my legs and I fell over.
“Celia! Are you alright?”
While Catrin was looking at me with concern in her dark green eyes one of the pirates came up behind her and dumped a bucket of sea water on my head.
I sputtered and jumped up. “Aack! I’m fine. I just got dizzy.”
I looked over to see Catrin and some other pirates laughing so hard they were bent over.
“I knew the sea would get you eventually,” she said with a smile. “Let’s keep walking. It’ll help you get your legs back.”
So, wet and dizzy, I continued on my way around the ship with Catrin. I was introduced to the lead blacksmith, Neha, who smiled and asked if I wanted to spend some time by her forge to dry off since I looked like a drowned rat. She was lean with very muscular arms and she was wearing a dark blue apron that looked thick enough to protect her from burns. The lead carpenter, Majid, was in the same space as the forge. He was muscular and tall with really short light-brown hair. They both moved with efficiency and seemed to rule over the carpenters and blacksmiths in the workspace with ease. Catrin told me that between the two of them and their crew they could fix almost anything on the ship that was damaged or broken, either through the wear of the sea or in battle.
As we were walking, we came upon a girl who looked to be about my age. She had long blond hair that was kept in a braid down her back and her eyes were the same blue as the sky. She was smiling as she walked and was wearing a rather worn light blue shirt under a black vest and long dark-blue gloves. Catrin told me her name was Bronwyn and it was her cabin that I had been assigned to.
As we were being introduced I saw something that was the size of a large bird, but much faster come swooping down headed toward Bronwyn.
“Duck!” I yelled with all my might as I jumped toward Bronwyn in a misguided attempt to shield her from the attacking creature.
Bronwyn stood her ground and pushed me away.
“What are you doing, Celia?! It’s only Emil.” She looked at the small, dark-blue dragon that was the size of a large house cat that gave me a glare as it sent to sit in the cradle of Bronwyn’s arms.
“It’s alright Emil. Don’t be afraid.” Bronwyn talked to the dragon in a soft voice coaxing it down to rest more fully in her arms then she turned to me with anger in her eyes. “Look at how dark his hide is, you can tell he’s frightened! What is wrong with you? Why did you scare Emil like that?”
I was mortified, and babbled out, “I’m so sorry Bronwyn, but I’ve only seen Captain Gawain’s dragon. I didn’t know you had one as well. We don’t have dragons in Queenston. I didn’t know they existed outside of stories. I just saw something strange flying at your head.” With the dragon curled up and purring in Bronwyn’s arms it looked much less terrifying.
I’d forgotten that Catrin was still with us. “Bronwyn, why don’t you take Celia to a nice corner of the ship where you can get to know each other and she can get to know Emil. Since Celia will be in your room, she needs to be comfortable with your dragon.” With that Catrin walked off.
Bronwyn led me back to our room so that we could talk. I followed her, watching her long golden braid sway as she walked with the beautiful blue dragon now sitting on her left shoulder.
I noticed that Emil was much thinner and smaller than Gae Bulg. He had the same rounded wings on his back and smooth looking scales. He looked to be about the same size as Bitsy without her poofy fur. His tail was just hanging down the front of Bronwyn’s chest and he seemed much more relaxed than Gae Bulg.
As we arrived in our room Bronwyn turned to me, “I’m terribly sorry, Celia, I had no idea. This is Emil. He’s no danger to any of the Dragon Clan and he loves to wrap himself around my shoulders and purr.”
I thought that although I didn’t know that dragons existed until today, if I had, I would not have thought there would be dragons that were more like kittens than lions.
“Captain Gawain mentioned the Dragon Clan. How did you find the dragons?”
“The Flawahen Dragons that live on the Dragon Islands are good natured. They never attack people unless they’re threatened. The Dragon Islands don’t appear on any maps but Captain Gawain found the islands with a small group of three ships when her fleet had been badly damaged in an attack by the pirate Blacktat. The dragons sensed her distress and her inherent strength mixed with kindness. They gave her entry to the island which allowed Captain Gawain and her crew to regain their strength and hide from Blacktat. Gae Bulg is one of the oldest and strongest dragons on the island and also the dragon that called to Captain Gawain and convinced the others to let the ships have safe harbor and their protection. Since then, we have called ourselves the Dragon Clan. We have grown to a mighty fleet of nine and are feared across the sea.
“The dragons aren’t able to leave the island on their own. The protective magic of the island is mixed with that of the dragons so if a dragon wants to leave they must be bonded with a human. Usually these are the younger and more curious dragons. They want to see the world and they enjoy the company of humans. Gae Bulg is the rare dragon who is older and strong in magic, but she chose to bond with Captain Gawain. Some say they are connected at the soul as well as through magic.”
This story of the kindness of the dragons was making me feel better about them, but less certain about life as a pirate with this clan. I was terrified at the idea of an island full of dragons and being attacked by terrible pirates. I was also a little nervous about the idea of bonding with a dragon. Would that hurt?
“Um, Bronwyn, how exactly do you bond with a dragon?”
Bronwyn smiled. “The dragon can only bond with a human by mutual consent. On Dragon Island the humans and dragons live together as equals and many become friends. When a pirate is due to leave on a ship they sometimes ask the dragon they are closest to if they would like to be bonded with them so that they can travel together. Most dragons are content to stay on Dragon Island and those who choose to stay or go are not judged. But once we are bonded through magic we can talk with the dragons in our minds and we always have a loyal friend.
“The dragons never make themselves known when we raid a ship. If the traders knew we had dragons they might try to capture them. The flag that we fly when raiding a ship is a red dragon over crossed swords, which gives the traders our name. Other pirates think that we may have dragons which make the pirates from our clan seem fiercer when we go into town.
“Emil is still young and his parents were a bit worried about his leaving with me as mine were about my leaving with him, but we make a good pair and look out for one another. Now that’s enough talk of dragons. We need to go to dinner before all the food is gone.”
Bronwyn led me to the galley where we had a dinner of boiled rice with dried fruit, fresh bread and ham with beer to drink. The hall was dark with only a few lanterns to light the table. There were many pirates eating at the same time, but I was so tired, I could barely eat, let alone talk. The weight of my rash decision was weighing on my mind.
Bronwyn led me back to our room. There were two extra beds, but they weren’t being used, so we were alone. I fell asleep almost as soon as I laid down my head.