When I woke the next morning my legs felt heavy and I worried that the climb up the ropes had taken a much larger toll on me than I had expected. Then I realized that Emil was lying on my legs. He was not a large dragon, but he felt heavy. I reached down to stroke her head, and realized that he was cold, much colder than I had ever felt her before. I eased myself out from under him and I leaned over to wake up Bronwyn.
“Bronwyn, it’s Emil, something’s wrong!”
We both moved quickly back to my bunk and I showed Bronwyn Emil and she felt his head.
“I had wondered where he had gotten off to. There is nothing to worry about Celia. He is getting ready to molt and apparently he’s decided to let you have his shedding.”
“Most of the time when a dragon molts it does so with the person to whom they are bonded, but if a dragon feels a close tie to another human they will gift them with a molted hide to let them know of this new bond. It is truly an honor.”
“Bronwyn, do you mind this?”
“Mind? No, it’s an honor for my dragon to molt for another. It means that he is healthy and developing good bonds. If anything were ever to happen to me, he could bond with you and still be well taken care of.”
“Oh, well I had no idea. Thank you, Bronwyn.” I said with deep gratitude.
“It is really Emil you must thank when he’s done. I had nothing to do with this.” Bronwyn said with a smile.
“Well, thank you for being my friend and teaching me about dragons,” I said while giving her a hug.
She hugged me back and said, “you’d better hurry, you have to swab the deck after breakfast and then you need to climb the ropes again twice today.”
I went off to breakfast, already feeling a bit sick with the thought of climbing the ropes again, but the smell of freshly boiled rice and potatoes in the dining room refreshed my hunger and I ate like a dragon.
On my way up to swab the deck I tripped over a foot. There was a foot sticking out of the infirmary. I looked in to see if I could help move the body attached to the foot inside a bit to get it out of the way when I saw, not only the rest of the body attached to the foot, but the body of another pirate I had never seen on the ship laying on the floor with a huge knife wound in his side. Helwif Prudence looked up as I was opening the door. She practically glowed in her white long-sleeved shirt with her long, curly brown hair flowing around her face like a giant hat.
“Hello, Celia, can you please drag that other body inside. Thank you.”
As I dragged the body in I asked, “What has happened here? Who are these men?”
“Oh, these are spies we caught trying to get on board.” She said rather casually.
“Yes, you see we aren’t the only pirate clan in the waters. They belong to one of our rival clans. They would like to know where we dock and how they can find our island, since the island doesn’t appear on any maps.”
“What will you do with them?” I asked.
“Well first I will tidy them up and then I will give them a nice drink that will get them to tell us to whom they belong and how they found us. Depending on the answer, we may then need to sink them. I will have to see.”
“Sink them? Depending on what?”
“All in good time, Celia. You will learn all when the time is right,” she said.
I went on deck to begin swabbing, but I couldn’t stop thinking about those men and the secrets they were to reveal or the fact that the Helwif, who I had always thought of as kindly, had another side to her with a steely resolve. A special drink that would get them to tell all was an amazing secret I didn’t expect of the pirates. I always thought pirates would just hit a person until they talked. This clan with their spies, dragons, and magic drinks is nothing like what I expected when I joined them. Even the way I was being trained to fight by sitting and standing and climbing ropes, seemed a bit unusual.
While swabbing I waved to Rex as he was headed down into the ship. I noticed that he had a sachet of berries tied over his nose.
“Rex, what happened? Are you being punished with the bilge?”
Rex smiled grimly as he looked up at me. “Hi Celia! No, not punishment, it is just my turn. If you start to wear the berries before you get close to the bilge it’s really not such a problem. It’s still disgusting to look at, but without the smell it is much more manageable.”
“That’s good to hear. Good luck getting it done quickly.”
“Thanks Celia.” Rex smiled a goodbye as he walked away.
I smiled back at Rex as I got ready to climb. I hadn’t even taken off my dragon hide gloves to sleep. They felt so comfortable on my arms and were so beautiful that I didn’t want to be parted from them. As I started to climb the ropes I began thinking about the two men in the Helwif’s room and wondering to whom they belonged. I was thinking of their harsh faces and wondering where they got those terrible wounds. The pirates of this ship were all very muscular and could be stern, but they didn’t have the harshness to their faces that was on those of the prisoners. Faces like that, with deep groves and hard set eyes belonged to people who had both seen and done terrible things. Those were not the faces of people who smiled often or were given over to laughter.
As I was thinking I fell into a rhythm. I climbed hand over hand not thinking much of the height or my fear until I reached the top. And then like a fool I looked down. The ship and the ocean seemed miles away and I realized that when I was up this high there was much more sway. I felt like a kitten trapped in a tree. I started to panic and had trouble hanging on to the ropes due to the sway from the winds. I was wondering about my foolishness of taking up with these people when I could be sitting in a parlor listening to some god-awful, boring business person talk about the price of the crops or the terrible growing season.
“Ok, never mind,” I said to myself, “you do NOT want to be on your parent’s estate. Here you can grow, even bloom, so stop being silly and just start going back down.”
So I did. I started to move, slowly at first. Then I heard Master Clyde’s voice. He was right beside me. He’d seen me stop at the top and had come to help.
“Now look at our brave new pirate. I have never been so proud. I saw you were stuck and you just started moving down again.”
I started to turn my head. “DO NOT LOOK DOWN!” He shouted. So I looked back up again. Glad to have the support, grateful that I was not sitting in some horrible room with boring business people.
As I descended with Master Clyde at my side, I saw land in the distance. “Is that where we are headed? Is that the island of the Dragon Clan?”
“No, that is where we will sell our gains from your ship.”
All the crew was assembled on deck as I got back to the bottom of the ropes. I got in line with the rest next to Master Clyde, waiting to see what would happen next.
Captain Gawain appeared resplendent in a deep crimson dress cloak over a dressed up version of her daily clothing. She wore a wide-striped dark red and white shirt that was starched stiff under a deep red vest made of dragon’s hide and buckled with silver. I saw that she had added an expensive gold broach to her cloak to show her status and her wealth. With her long brown hair and her brown eyes, she could command more than our fleet. She would be the one that would have the eyes of the islanders. In many ways making it easier for the rest of the crew to get the goods we needed.
“Alright now crew, we’re getting ready to go into port at Bakabuid Island to sell the goods from our last two captures. As you know, much of the goods were cloth. You will each get to choose two lengths of cloth as part of your payment. The rest will be sold and the money will be divided as to our agreement. Catrin will take you each down to the hold in groups to select your cloth.”
I leaned over to Master Clyde after the captain had gone, “will I be included in the divvying up of the goods?”
“Of course you will, you joined of your own free will and you have worked as hard as any other crew member. You will not get a share of rewards from the first ship, but you will from the ship you came from,” he said.
I was excited to share in the booty from the Mirabel although it was strange to benefit from a ship that I had boarded as a passenger. I couldn’t wait to choose some decent fabric to wear when I was on shore, but first I had to have an outfit made for me to wear on the ship.
I was among the last group to go below with Catrin as the parties were chosen by rank. But so much cloth had been looted from both the Mirabel as well as the trading ship they’d raided before I joined, that the hold looked as if it were covered in jewels for all of the brightly glinting silk and the deep colors of the wool. There was no cotton in the hold, as the cotton was grown in the islands. That was the purpose of the traders’ journey, to trade silk and wool for cotton not available in the north.All of the pirates were choosing silk that was made durable through a complicated new weaving method. Wool was only used for blankets at this temperature. It could get cold at night, but the days were warm and required the coolness of the silk. I was inexplicably drawn to a deep violet silk with gold roses embroidered throughout. The roses reminded me of the wild roses that grew around my home in Queenston. I thought that this would make a beautiful shirt with billowing sleeves. I also chose a rose pink silk to have an undershirt made from. Catrin gave me and Bronwyn a bolt of sturdy brown silk to have serviceable items made for us to wear on the ship.