Chapter 4 Adventures on the High Seas
The crew of the Scoundrel were held in the forward hold, under very tight security. Captain Yar was held in the very cabin where Princess Nallah had been previously held, under even tighter guard.
They had the run of the ship, the gardens, and pools. Captain Tock and his crew set sail to cross the rolling ocean and return to their homelands. They sailed quietly for three days, while the sails filled with the trade wind and the Scoundrel was making remarkable time. Mr. Anderson was on deck staring over the vast expanse of sea, with the wide canopy of sky filled with fleecy, lazy clouds above, when he again felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned his head, somehow expecting a tiny person to be standing on him, but he only saw a woman’s hand.
“Hello, Maylu,” he said, without turning around.
“Sir Dave, there are bad ships ahead,” she said, coming around to face him.
“More whalers?” Mr. Anderson asked.
“I don’t know that word,” he said. He looked her in the eyes and saw that she was trembling.
“In your world, you have a lot of seals, but very few selkies. In our world, we have more selkies than seals. These bad ships are harvesting the selkies.”
“For what purpose?” he asked. He had heard of seal skin used for mukluks and parkas, fashionable hats and other things, but he could not imagine anyone killing another sentient being for any practical reason.
“To rid the planet of them. There are people here who do not believe that anyone should spend their time swimming in the ocean and eating fish.”
“But that’s what selkies do,” Mr. Anderson, raised an eyebrow. He didn’t understood why they would want to spend their time that way, but he did not feel it was his place to pass judgment on another’s chosen lifestyle. “Has Auda been informed?”
“She’s the one who let me know,” Maylu said. A tear slipped down her cheek.
“I’ll go to the bridge and inform Captain Tock,” Mr. Anderson said, taking his leave. He turned the corner and found the girls playing a game of hopscotch on the deck. A glowing phosphorescence marked the squares for them on the wood. They had gotten help to make their little game area.
“Good morning, Mr. Anderson,” the Carter girls greeted him, and Jen said, “Good morning, Daddy.”
“Good morning, girls,” he replied. “I hope your play area is not in anyone’s way.”
“No, we’ve got permission to be here,” Gina explained.
“Aren’t you a little old for hopscotch?”
“Can one ever be too old for fun?” Gina countered.
“Come on, Dad. Give it a try.”
“I haven’t played this in years,” he said, hopping out the pattern, being sure to skip over the first square where a tiny cockle shell served as the marker. The girls applauded his performance.
“Not bad,” Jen said, “for an old man.”
“You are only as old as you feel,” Mr. Anderson replied.
“And how old do you feel, Mr. Anderson?” Julie inquired.
“Old,” he smiled and rubbed his lower back. “I have to run.”
“Oh, stay and play with us for a while,” Gina begged.
“Can’t. I have to talk to the captain,” he took his leave and walked straightaway to the bridge.
“Captain Tock, there are bad ships up ahead,” he said, after being announced. “We should avoid them if we can.”
“Too late,” the ruddy faced sailor replied, taking a long draw from his daffodil pipe. “They are on an intercept course.”
“Can we outrun them?”
“They are smaller and more maneuverable than we are, not to mention a lot faster,” the captain explained.
“What flag are we flying?” Mr. Anderson asked.
“We’re not,” the captain said. “I didn’t like their federation flag, it was creepy. And somehow, flying the flag of any of the satellite kingdoms did not seem right.”
“So they will check us out, and then go away.”
“Maybe,” Captain Tock grunted. “Sir Mowbry, could you get the troops ready for combat?”
“On my way,” Mowbry replied, giving Mr. Anderson a nod as he took his leave.
Moments later, the fighting forces were in their pre-assigned battle stations. Some of them were aloft in the rigging, standing on the narrow beams that held the sails, while others were lining the rails or simply stood in ranks upon the deck, all with wands at the ready. Many of them were in the gardens of what would be the cannon deck on an Earth man o’ war.
The flagship of the selker fleet approached rapidly, not bothering to tack into the wind, but manipulating the wind to fill her sails so she could ignore the basic laws of weather-based travel.
“Ahoy there,” a voice came over the seas when the flagship was near enough.
“Ahoy yerself,” Captain Tock called back.
“From which country do you hail?” the flagship asked, pulling alongside.
“We are a small band from many nations, coming across the seas to seek trade relations.”
“In a warship? This looks like the privateer Scoundrel!”
Mr. Anderson sensed that there would be no talking their way out of the situation, but he held his tongue. Princess Nallah pushed her way onto the bridge.
“Sorry I am late. I was tied up with Captain Yar. He told me that these murderers are also working for the New Threan Federation,” she explained.
“It is the privateer Scoundrel!” Captain Tock called back. “I call upon all of you to surrender.”
The sound of laughter came across the small gap that separated their vessels. Mr. Anderson noted that they other small boats of the fleet had also approached and were in the process of surrounding her. “I am not bluffing,” Captain Tock called out. “We are the freed men and women who were held captive in the giant realm. We have defeated the giants, and we represent the free kingdoms. Surrender now!”
“Defeated us, eh?” Mr. Anderson commented.
“Not now,” Captain Tock said in the an undertone. “We need to impress them.”
“We are prepared to fight,” Mowbry insisted.
“You know I am not afraid to fight,” Captain Tock returned, “But on the high seas, it should only be done as a last resort.”
“You aboard the Scoundrel!” the voice came back. “Whom do I have the honor of addressing?”
“I be Captain Tock of Dalrimple,” he called out. “Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”
There was silence from the threatening ship. “Right now he is conferring with his people to see if there is anyone who remembers me. I will do the same once I find out his name and country of origin,” Captain Tock explained.
The clouds gathered ominously above them, circling, and lightning danced between them with low, ominous rumbles. Jen grabbed her father from beside him and wrapped her arms around him for comfort. “What is happening?”
“Tension,” Princess Nallah replied. “A storm is about to blow.”
The voice again came from the smaller boat. “Tock of Dalrimple has been gone for forty years. Who are you really?”
“You have not answered my question,” Captain Tock shot back. “Who do I have the pleasure of addressing?”
All wands were at the ready. Lightning struck between the two ships, and electricity danced blue along the rigging. The sound of thunder was deafening. Then they again heard the voice. “Dock of Dalrimple,” it said.
“I don’t believe you!” Tock shouted back. “Dock was only interested in farming!”
“Only Tock would know that! Permission to come aboard.”
“Granted! But come alone!”
“What is happening now?” Jen asked, squeezing her father tighter.
“I don’t know,” Nallah admitted.
“It’s my baby brother,” Tock declared.
The crew of the Scoundrel threw lines to the smaller boat, the Selkie Bane, and they closed the gap, until they were close enough to pass a plank between them. The rest of the fleet came in even closer to surround the man o’ war. Presently, Dock of Dalrimple crossed the plank and saluted the captain of the Scoundrel. Instead of saluting back, Tock embraced him in a powerful bear hug.
Dock was darker and less ruddy than Tock, but they had virtually the same face, separated by several years of experience. Dock was slightly taller, slightly leaner, but the family resemblance was remarkable.
When Tock finally quit squeezing the breath out of him, Dock turned around and hugged Tock back, and Jen watched as Tock’s already ruddy face turned redder and redder. There were tears dripping down his cheeks, and Jen could not decide if they were happy tears, or tears of pain. “Well now,” Tock finally said, trying to wipe his tears without being noticed, “Why don’t we go to my cabin and catch up a bit? Are you fond of mead?”
“I’m fond of mead,” Dock replied, a broad grin spreading across his face. “I don’t know how much you know, but I may have some surprises for you.”
They wandered down to the captain’s cabin, side by side, and Jen tried to follow, but her father held her back. They were alone together for what seemed like hours. The wands of the fighting force were gradually brought down, but still held in their hands and the two captains caught each other up on whatever they had to talk about, presumably the goings on for the past few decades. Finally, a runner appeared on the bridge. “The captain sends his greetings, and requests the presence of Her Royal Highness, and the giants, and General Mowbry, if you please.”
The delegation went below to the Captain’s Cabin, and were all offered chairs that were set in a large circle. Once seated, the runner stepped outside and closed the cabin doors. “As you may have gathered, I have been talking with my brother, about many, many things. Since these things concern all of us, and our mission here, we need to have a discussion.”
“I pledge my support and that of my fleet to you, Your Majesty,” Captain Dock addressed Princess Nallah.
“I, uh, thank you,” Nallah responded graciously.
“Not so fast,” Jen said, and Mr. Anderson was surprised. “Why should we welcome murderers into our army?”
“Dock, tell them what you told me,” Captain Tock grunted, lifting another glass of mead.
“You think we are killing the selkies? It isn’t true. We take their skins. Our clothiers put them into some rather nice outfits, and we take the skins back to the emperor and tell him we’ve killed them. Everybody wins.”
“What about the selkies? They don’t win.” Jen crossed her arms, demanding an explanation.
“Well, it’s true we’ve interrupted their way of life, but they don’t die. They just can’t swim in the ocean and chase fish anymore, that’s all. If I weren’t in charge, and there were some who said that I shouldn’t be, they would be dead, and that would be a tragedy,” Dock explained defensively. “The emperor sees them as a threat, you see. And he wants to eliminate all threats.”
Captain Tock nodded. “That brings us to you, Your Majesty,” he addressed Princess Nallah.
“I’m afraid,” Dock began, “There’s no easy way to say this, so forgive me if I shock you. Your family has been, well, they’ve been...” he paused, looking for a word that wouldn’t seem brutal. “They’ve been executed.”
Everyone in the room was stunned, and all eyes were on Nallah, as the shock overwhelmed her. She started to breathe heavily and her eyes started to water, and her nose started to run. She was turning a funny shade of red, then blue, then violet, before her natural color returned and she tried to speak. “That’s – not – possible,” she forced herself to say.
“The king and queen, yes, and the crown prince, and the first princess, I’m sorry to say. You are now the only living member of the royal house.”
Captain Tock took another sip of mead straight from the bottle, then he wiped the neck off with his sleeve and handed the bottle to the princess. Nallah took a big gulp and handed the bottle back. “Not possible.”
“On the up side, we now have not only an army, but a navy as well. We can use the Scoundrel as the flag ship, and my brother Dock will be the admiral.”
“I suggest my brother Tock as the admiral,” Dock objected.
Books started to fly off the shelves, smashing into the opposite wall, and bottles of mead crashed through the windows. The chair on which Mr. Anderson sat started to raise up and he jumped off quickly before it flew against a wall and shattered into splinters.
“Your Highness,” Mowbry cried, “a tantrum solves nothing.”
“Don’t you ‘your highness’ me!” Nallah cried, “my family is gone! My kingdom is gone! I have nothing! I am nothing! Nothing!” She shrieked a cry of grief, of loss, and of sorrow that could be heard around the fleet. Her wail of agony subsided into long sobs, and harsh breathing as she exhaled a lot more than she inhaled, and finally into silent shudders of grief. Jen, Julie and Gina came over and put their hands on her, rubbing her arms and her back, for a few long moments. “I lost my mother, too,” Jen whispered softly into her ear.
“The pain!” Nallah croaked back. She grabbed Jen into an embrace at least as strong as the hug that Dock gave to Tock.
“It never goes away, but we live on,” Jen explained. “It becomes a part of us, and sometimes it is our strength.”