King Calvin made good on his promise to provide Otis with a vessel and provisions for the journey back to Ithaca. According to the most up-to-date maps, which the king also provided, Ithaca was only a two-month trip from port to port. The king provided four months’ worth of food and water and six months’ worth of wine.
Otis stepped aboard his new vessel and loosened the ropes, keeping it tethered to the seasoned dock. The sweet smell of sap burst from the handcrafted pine vessel, despite having been coated with several glossy coats of cherry varnish. As Otis floated away from the dock unhurriedly, he looked ahead to the calm sea. Even though his rather recent encounter with the Sea Witch was something taken from him by amnesia, he still felt uneasy as the land mass faded from sight.
As the setting sun plastered the sky with every shade of pink and blue, the uneasy nerves that had sent him off the island were starting to settle. Further decompression from his release, and the expulsion of Sea Witch venom from his system, was helping him regain confidence. While the maps and provisions were great, nautical know-how he feared he’d forgotten was as fresh in his mind as it ever was. The very first night, he was using celestial markers with confidence as a map to guide him home.
As the continuation of calm waters guided his vessel deeper into the night, Otis opened a barrel of wine and ladled some into a contraption placed on board, courtesy of King Calvin. It was a tubelike device that had been affixed to the back of the vessel, capable of holding several gallons’ worth of wine. Attached to it was a smaller, more flexible tube running out the side and emptying into the ocean at the behest of a time-release mechanism.
The design was a brainchild of Mr. Geppetto, and one of the many innovations he would be known for during the war. Its sole purpose was to provide libations for the Sea Witch, should she place the ship that carried it under attack. He never gave the device an official name, but over the years, one caught on. It was known simply as “the antidote.”
It was a smash hit with more affluent ship captains, due to its light weight, durability, and functionality. It was explicitly designed for crews to save time and keep themselves free for other, more mentally demanding tasks. But often times it turned into a joke, with much of the wine being drunk by crew members readily awaiting the stream with a mug or open mouth.
Only a handful of people knew the Sea Witch to be real, and a vast majority didn’t take her existence seriously. She was little more than a myth, even to those who had heard her tales from credible sources. It was just too unfathomable for most to believe in such horrid things.
With no further tasks to speak of, Otis ladled one last scoop from the wine barrel and slugged it down before getting comfortable on the vessel’s only hammock. He closed his eyes but wasn’t able to get any sleep. As if beamed into his mind from some telekinetic projection, Otis thought back to random moments from his and Penelope’s time together. There were funny moments. There were private moments. And there were visceral moments that brought tears to the bottom of his eyes as the weight of all the years he had spent away eroded his conscience. A mass of questions bounced around in his mind, many more than once. But the one he kept coming back to, and the one he was most nervous to learn, was “Do they still love me?”
The night sea could be a lonely place, and especially scary to those less experienced with the sights and sounds one might encounter. The eerie echoes of whales crying, the candy-covered songs of sirens, and hostile shrieks of merpirates all had the potential to break the silence and peace at any given moment. Otis kept his guard up but allowed his mind to relax and reflect on nostalgic moments that ran parallel with a carousel of bright traveling stars.
In the Sea Witch’s cold, dark grotto, a preteen merman swam in from the cave’s underwater entrance and emerged to find the Sea Witch sleeping. Her top half rested on a slick, rocky portion of the floor while her billowing tentacles danced slowly below the surface. The neon-sapphire hue they emitted was the only source of light within the dark lair.
The young merman approached slowly in a nonthreatening manor until a glowing tentacle whipped up and wrapped around his petrified young throat.
“You wanted to see me?” the merman asked, trying to remain calm.
“I did,” the Sea Witch said. She opened her eyes and turned toward the merman, still holding him tight. “How are the great Otis’s travels coming along?”
“Well, don’t hem and haw around. Spit it out.”
“Otis is already less than a week away from Ithaca. He left sooner than we thought, and he’s moving much, much faster than we originally projected.”
“King Calvin and Queen Elaine have the best shipbuilders in the world, but even that doesn’t explain how he’s moving so fast.” She released the grasp of her tentacle, freeing her young guest before swimming over to a large crate. Using her hands and tentacles, she sifted through an array of mementos she’d accumulated over the years. “I won’t be able to get to Otis before he reaches land,” the Sea Witch said.
She placed four or five hand-drawn pictures of Otis over several mysterious documents before rolling them up and stuffing them into a large glass bottle. “Be careful with this stuff,” the Sea Witch said, corking the top. She extended her tentacle and the bottle within its grasp. The young merman’s trembling hand accepted it. “I can’t stress enough how bad it’ll be for you if you lose, or damage, the contents of this bottle,” she said. “Do you understand?”
“I need you to get this to some humans that I can trust—humans who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. I need you to find a ship called the Jolly Roger. Ask for the captain, James.” She shared her infamous green smile and sent the young merman on his way.