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Sweeter Lands and Sour Dresses

The Fish House docked on the beach of the first island in their quest. The island was part of a region called the Sweet Land, which was located northeast from Jonquil, and the sight of them was enough to rot a tooth.

On the bow of the ship, Umbilicus appreciated the view as the sun beat down on him. Umbilicus surveyed the area for danger, but he saw no harm; the land looked innocent. With swirls marbling the pink and white sand, a tropical purple jungle, and lilac coiling mountains, he found the island charming. Lost in thoughts of the awaiting adventure, he felt little paws from behind. Umbilicus fell and hit the sand. The sand was surprisingly cool. He rose and shook the sand off his clothes. When he thought to spit out the sand that entered his mouth, he swallowed instead.

‘Umbs, are you alive?’ the Captain called from above him.

‘It tastes sweet,’ said Umbilicus, licking his lips.

Brevis jumped down with a satchel of supplies. Dira followed behind. ‘You like that, lad?’

They heard the Captain squeaking in a manner they assumed was the rat equivalent of yelling. The rats, especially Cookie and Cutter, did not like Umbilicus. He suspected the pair had pushed him. Umbilicus ignored the commotion and asked Brevis for an explanation about the taste he had experienced.

‘It is troll skin and faerie dust,’ said Brevis, ‘—which is basically faerie dandruff. I guess that makes it faerie skin too but only from the head.’

‘That is vile,’ said Umbilicus, mouth agape. He did not like how Brevis was amused.

‘Ah, but delicious,’ said Brevis, pinching a sample of the sand for a taste. The wolf lapped at the sand too.

Captain Brandy leapt from the ship along with Cookie and Cutter. ‘They’re here to make friends,’ the Captain explained, marching ahead. Brevis and Dira trailed along, but Cookie and Cutter kept Umbilicus back, squeaking at him ruthlessly. ‘Come on now,’ the Captain called. ‘We’ve got some shopping to do.’

Umbilicus scampered in front of the rats to Brevis, travelling into jungle. The leaves and the grass were varying in shades purple. The only green was from the fruits and flower. ‘I do not see a sign of civilization,’ said Umbilicus.

‘We will find something,’ Brevis assured.

Deeper in, the grass grew taller, and the flora became so dense that the group had to walk closely, causing Umbilicus to be pushed behind. Once again, he was with the giant rats, but worse; their bodies pressed against one another in the cramped space.

Umbilicus did not feel safe. The rats looked as much of a pirate as the Captain did. The upright rodents both carried swords and wore pirate-kohl. The one named Cookie had an eye patch and a red bandana. He was not so bad, but Cutter appeared deadly with jagged pink scars marring his body and face. From his little pirate hat to his pointed shoes, he was an intimidating critter.

Umbilicus wished he had protection, but Brevis was in front of him, enjoying the journey with a carefree stride; Dira was by the Captain, sniffing the path as she went; and the Captain was chirring to the birds, asking for directions. The Captain did turn around to squeak at the rats, but generally, the Captain paid no mind to Umbilicus. Unbeknownst to Umbilicus, the rats had conspired to trip him several times.

Captain Brandy became silent, halting their steps at the blended sounds of civilization. The island had people. Captain Brandy pushed the branches and tall grass aside to reveal the source. ‘There they are,’ said the Captain, proudly.

Umbilicus leaned over the Captain’s shoulder. He saw a purple village that blended into the environment and stout humanoids. Their faces were bright pink, and their fur, which covered the rest of their bodies, was violet. ‘What are they?’ he inquired.

‘The people whose skin you were eating—one of them at least,’ said Brevis, stepping through the tall grass to approach the trolls. The crew stayed.

‘What do we need from them?’ asked Umbilicus.

‘Something only they produce,’ said the Captain.

Umbilicus knew that much. He wanted specifics. The way the Captain and Brevis made the grocery list sound dangerous, when they were literally shopping, was bothering him. Strange as the island was, Umbilicus was certain that it was harmless. Brevis and the Captain were too secretive. Brevis entered an innocent-looking store without them, but Captain Brandy told Umbilicus that Brevis was bargaining and that the trolls were not fond of crowds. Umbilicus still did not understand why they could not enter. He wanted to see what was happening inside.

The real reason why they had not entered was unknown to Captain Brandy as well. The first time Brevis came to the island with the Captain, the trolls had told him that they did not want the elf-human in their ships and requested Brevis not to tell the pirate. Admittedly, the trolls wanted Captain Brandy’ as a customer, but Captain Brandy’s elfish good looks scared away local business. Brevis feared Umbilicus might have a similar effect. The trolls were not fond of blonds in general.

When Brevis returned, Captain Brandy took him aside, leaving Umbilicus with Dira and the rats. Once again, Umbilicus was out of the loop, and that frustrated the boy further. He wanted to help. He felt as if they did not think he was able, just like how his comrades in Tarsus viewed him. Umbilicus was sure they were conspiring against him. Brevis probably wanted the Princess with that thief of an elf-giant, and the Captain would obviously side with a mutt. In Umbilicus’ eyes, elf hybrids were crooks.

Finishing their private discussion, The Captain and Brevis regrouped with the animals and Umbilicus. To Umbilicus’ amazement, he finally received the opportunity he was waiting for. ‘You are charming, right?’ Brevis asked, grinning.

‘Yes,’ said Umbilicus, pleased that that Brevis was using his preferred name. ‘Yes, I am.’

‘You see, Umbs, we have a small problem,’ said Brevis, squinting his eyes as he smiled for emphasis. ‘I am starting to develop fine lines, and women do not find it appealing.’

Umbilicus frowned at how Brevis was talking about aging and how he was using an abbreviated from of his given name again. ‘Are you saying that we need to buy anti-aging cream?’

‘No, I like my wrinkles,’ said Brevis. ‘They make me appear more mature than I really am. Our issue is that faeries do not like old men or elves.’

‘The Captain is young and barely looks like an elf,’ said Umbilicus.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ interjected the Captain. ‘They can smell it. We are natural enemies.’

Brevis went straight to the point: ‘You are supposedly charming. We need you to become acquainted with a faerie, kiss her, collect her saliva, and spit it into a jar.’

‘Cookie and Cutter will be accompanying you,’ added Captain Brandy. The rats squeaked in objection, but the Captain squeaked back, reminding the pair who was the Captain.

Umbilicus wanted to protest, but he knew it was not wise to go alone. Not that travelling with rats who strongly disliked him was much better. ‘Then what will you two be doing?’ asked Umbilicus.

‘We need gravy,’ answered Brevis, nonchalantly.

Umbilicus assumed they were doing actual shopping. ‘Why do I need bodily fluids from the faeries?’

Captain Brandy replied aloofly, ‘We need something to drink.’

‘It is a grocery list, Umbs,’ said Brevis, reasoning with the frustrated knight.

On the south side of the island, Umbilicus entered faerie territory with a pair of silent giant rats. He figured the Captain had spoken to the rats before they left, as they thankfully had not attempted to take his life. Captain Brandy had spoken to him privately, which was why he assumed so.

The Captain had told him: ’They don’t like you because you didn’t have to work to get on the ship. To add, you barely work on the ship unless Brevis makes you—that and the fact you find them off putting. For the record, they find you repellent too. I mean, you only have fur on your head, and you bathe regularly. Also, just because I talk to animals does not mean I employ them willy-nilly. They had to endure several interviews. Take the opportunity to show them that I did not make a mistake taking you aboard. The last thing you want them to do is push you into the ocean.′

Similarly, Brevis had also given him some last minute advice. ‘Faeries are all female,’ he had said. ‘They like a handsome young man. They are sort of like Daffy, but if a faerie likes you, she will not spy on you from afar. All you need to do is court her and charm her—live up to the name you gave yourself! I am not sure what you should do though. It has been a while since I wooed a woman, but you can do it. I believe in you. Also, if a faerie approaches you and tries to turn you into a male faerie so that you can live happily ever after, say no and run. There are no male faeries for a reason.’

Umbilicus thought faerie territory was much nicer than the rest of the island he had seen. The leaves were purple, but it was much more colourful with flowers varying in shades of pinks, blues, and yellows. The plants were not densely set and easier to navigate. ‘Watch your step, little guy,’ said Umbilicus, spotting an awkwardly low branch protruding out.

Offended, the rats squeaked. Cookie and Cutter hopped over the branch without trouble. They waved their claws, stressing that they were not little.

Nervously, Umbilicus corrected himself. ‘Big guy—yes, you are giant rats.’ Cookie and Cutter were larger than the average rat, even if they were smaller than he was, and he had no way to tell what they might do to him.

The rats squeaked and drew their swords. A golden winged creature flew into their view. ‘Stay calm,’ said Umbilicus. ‘It is just a butterfly.’ The creature came inches in front of his face, staring intently at him. His eyes were crossing, but it appeared to be a pretty, but yellow, girl. ‘You were right. It is not a butterfly.’

‘Hello, handsome,’ said the faerie, zipping back and forth and around.

‘Hello to you too,’ said Umbilicus, flipping his hair in an attempt to be charming.

Cookie and Cutter pointed their swords at the faerie and squeaked at Umbilicus. What they were trying to convey was lost to Umbilicus, and the pair stomped in frustration.

The faerie giggled. ‘I don’t think your friends like you very much, but I like you,’ she said.

‘You like me?’ asked Umbilicus, surprised. He had not predicted the task to be so easy.

‘Yes, I do,’ she said, hovering steadily at distance so he could view her properly. She was extremely attractive. From her golden hair, amber eyes and vanilla skin, to her little yellow petal dress, she was the loveliest woman he had ever seen. ‘We don’t get many males around these parts besides those hideous trolls. It is so tragic.’ In a twinkle of faerie dust, her wings shrunk, and her body grew. She stood before him, the size of a petite, wingless, human female. He thought she was even more beautiful than before. ‘Won’t you keep me company?’ she asked, eyelashes fluttering.

‘What sort of company?’ Umbilicus asked, grinning from ear to ear.

In frustration, Cookie and Cutter palmed their faces.

‘Come with me,’ said the faerie, taking Umbilicus’ hand. ‘My sisters and I are having a tea party. Won’t you join us?’

Umbilicus was willing to let her take him wherever she wanted. ‘I like parties,’ he said.

The rats squeaked at him as he left, trying to persuade him to stay, but Umbilicus ignored them. He did not even know what they were saying.

On the other side of the island, hundreds of miniature volcanoes surrounded Brevis, Dira, and Captain Brandy.

‘Do you think we did the right thing?’ asked Brevis, as they wove around the volcanoes, searching for the right ones. Each volcano had lava that was uniquely its own. They lava came in a range of colours, and each was different from the rest.

Captain Brandy shrugged. ‘If the lad won’t swim, you throw him into the lake.’

Brevis nodded. He had suggested the idea initially for that reason, but he worried about Umbilicus. The lad was even more inexperienced as a knight than his comrades who were the same age. The younger ones did not see enough action. ‘You gave Cookie and Cutter a flare, right?’

’Yes, I gave them each a flare,′ said the Captain. ‘Besides, what are the chances of a faerie actually approaching Umbs? Give him the benefit of the doubt. He says he loves Nelumbella. If something does happen, Cookie and Cutter are expert swords-mice. They can hold themselves against a few fluttery faeries, and they will protect him. An honourable pirate leaves no man behind. You know that.’

‘I suppose you are right,’ said Brevis. He knew he was being irrational. Cookie and Cutter were better with a sword than Sir Papilla was.

Dira stopped. She pointed her paw to a volcano to their left. Brevis and Captain Brandy peered into the mouth of volcano and saw the iris blue lava they were seeking.

‘Do you have the never-sleep?’ asked the Captain.

‘Right here,’ replied Brevis, taking out a vial of the potion, gloves, and an empty jar from his satchel. He handed the equipment to the Captain.

Dira and Brevis gave Captain Brandy space so that the elf could be alone with the volcano. Dira did not have the correct build for the task, and it was Captain Brandy’s turn.

Captain Brandy putt on the gloves, carefully positioned the bottle over the hole, and poured the never-sleep into the crater. The volcano awoke, spurting blue lava straight into the jar. The lava did not scorch like lava from large volcanoes. What the Captain felt against the glass was warm, but the Captain did not want to risk touching it despite the comforting temperature. Sweet Land lava was toxic when unprocessed by magic. Once the bottle was full, Captain Brandy capped it and ran. The volcano continued to spill, gushing rapidly. ‘How much more gravy do we need?’ panted the Captain, reaching Brevis and Dira.

‘Six more,’ answered Brevis. ‘Rose red, lantana orange, dandelion yellow, hellebore green, Lily’s indigo, and wisteria violet.’

Captain Brandy groaned, throwing the jar of raw gravy at Brevis, who caught the bottle and stored it in his satchel. ‘It’s your turn,’ said the pirate.

Umbilicus was in the groomed part of the jungle. On higher ground, located on the coiling lilac mountains, the faeries’ territory was more like a garden in the Tarsus’ royal palace than the wild. Umbilicus was surprised by how civilized the faeries were. The outdoors were fully furnished with fixtures made from natural elements. The tables were a single, but large, sturdy flower; and the china was similarly made of individual smaller flowers. They were as exotic as they were charming.

With Cookie and Cutter out of sight and out of mind, Umbilicus sat in the centre petal gazebo, which was the appropriate size for humans. The pneumatic sisters of the yellow faerie, who had also grown to human size, surrounded him. Coming in the colours of their flowers, more than a dozen of the faeries clustered around Umbilicus. The faeries were eager to become acquainted with the charming young knight, and they listened intently to his claims of heroic adventure.

‘Oh, Charming,’ said a blue faerie, who sat leaning against his legs. ’You are so funny.′ Umbilicus loved how she said his name.

‘So handsome too,’ added a pink faerie, who sat to his left, arm hooked around his. ‘We would love it if you’d stay with us.’ The other faeries nodded in agreement.

‘I must apologize,’ said Umbilicus. As much as he enjoyed their company, he recalled what Brevis said about faeries. ‘I have to return home.’

The purple faerie who sat to his right scooted onto his lap. Pouting with a hand on his chest, she said, ‘You could be our husband.’

‘Our?’ he questioned. Although Brevis had warned him of situations such as this, Umbilicus allowed the faerie to remain where she was.

‘Yes, we could be your wives,’ said the yellow faerie he had met first, taking the position by his side the purple fairy once had. ‘Meeting a man like you is so rare. We really would like to keep you, even if it means we have to share. We are very good at sharing. We are sharing right now, are we not?’

Tempted, Umbilicus scolded himself and thought of the Princess. ‘As much as I would love to marry all of you, I cannot. My heart belongs to a woman elsewhere,’ he said.

‘We do not believe you,’ said the blue faerie below.

‘You are trying to leave us,’ gasped a turquoise faerie.

‘No, my lady,’ he insisted. ‘I am not.’ He was doing this for the Princess.

‘Then stay with us. Make us your women,’ said the pink faerie, clinging to his arm, and pressing her chest onto him.

The purple fairy sitting on his lap leaned into his ear and purred, ‘You could be our King.’

‘Your King?’ asked Umbilicus, eyes wide.

‘Yes,’ said the faerie to his left, ‘the King of the Sweet Land Faeries. Would it not be the sweetest pleasure to be ours?’

‘All you have to do is marry us,’ said the blue faerie by his legs.

‘What would that entail me doing?’ inquired Umbilicus, relatively suspicious.

‘Your coronation,’ said the purple faerie, taking the liberty of running her slender fingers through his thick blond hair. ‘Let us put a wreath of flowers on your head. Be ours.’

‘So I do not have to become a man of your kind to be your King?’ Umbilicus asked.

‘Why would we turn you into a little man when we can be a woman for you?’ cooed the faerie to his right.

Umbilicus seriously considered their proposal. He would be King and have the most beautiful wives. He would be able to have his happily ever after without being changed. Umbilicus thought twice. If the marriage fell through, he needed a fall back. ‘Will I receive a kiss from my brides to be?’ he asked.

The purple faerie leaned in. ’Once you marry us, we will all kiss you.′

‘Maybe I could sample now,’ he suggested, pulling the purple faerie close.

‘No,’ she said, pushing away, ‘our kisses are reserved for our husband.’

‘Then I ought to marry you immediately,’ said Umbilicus.

‘Yes,’ said the yellow faerie. ‘Sisters, bring our husband to be his crown.’

An orange faerie walked forward, luscious hips sashaying. In her hands, she held a wreath of flowers. She leaned over her sisters to crown him, providing an ample view of her bosom. Before the wreath touched his head, a giant rat jumped over Umbilicus and stole the crown. The rat planted his foot on the head of the orange faerie and leapt, landing on his hind legs.

‘Cookie?’ exclaimed Umbilicus, pushing the faerie off.

Cutter stood with Cookie and pointed his sword at the faeries. ‘Oh, you blasted rats,’ said the yellow faerie. ‘Give me the crown!’ She transformed into her miniature form and flew towards the rats, attempting to retrieve the wreath. Cookie and Cutter kept her away, swatting at her with their swords as if she were a fly. Turning into the little faeries, her sisters joined the match, whirling around the rats. Their once pretty faces turned vicious; and their teeth grew sharp, intent on shredding the rodents.

‘Ladies, stop it,’ said Umbilicus, trying to catch one of the faeries in his hands while avoiding the blades. He feared what the Captain would do to him if the rats were harmed.

Flailing his arms sporadically, Umbilicus caught a faerie, who happened to be the yellow one he initially met. A blue faerie took possession of the crown from Cookie and rushed to Umbilicus. Umbilicus was ready for his crown, and he ducked his head to receive it. Instead of flowers, he felt a little paw pressing against his head and springing off. Cutter had taken the wreath from the faerie. As Cutter squeaked in victory, the blue faerie hurdled against the rat.

Unwilling to let go, Cutter held onto the crown, fumbling and tumbling. As he rolled, Cutter found himself holding the wreath in the direction he thought was up. Bouncing onto his head, Cutter accidentally crowed himself. Cutter twitched and wiggled. His fur turned fluffier and lilac. Wings spouted from his back, glitter puffing out of him. He was a giant faerie-fat.

Staring at Cutter, the faeries stilled their efforts. ‘You were trying to save me,’ gasped Umbilicus. ‘And you!’ he said, confronting the faerie who was attempting to wiggle out of his grasp. ‘You were trying to turn me into faerie. You lied to me.’

‘Oh, what did you expect?’ she snarled. ‘We need a man in our lives. Is that really so bad?’

‘It depends,’ said Umbilicus, ready to leave with the two rats, adhering to Brevis’ warnings. ‘What were you going to do to me once I became a male faerie?’

‘Mate with you,’ said the yellow faerie, exasperated. ‘How else do you expect us to procreate?’

Cutter flew over and slapped the yellow faerie with faerie soft paws. He squeaked harshly, demanding her to tell Umbilicus the rest.

‘Then we’d eat you!’ exclaimed the faerie.

‘T-that is why there are no male faeries,’ stuttered Umbilicus.

‘It doesn’t matter, does it?’ the faerie growled, growing too big for Umbilicus’ hand. ‘You would die a king.’

‘Yes. Yes, I would,’ Umbilicus said softly, stepping closer to the woman-sized faerie. She smirked. With an arm around her waist and a hand cupping her cheek, he pulled her close into an open mouth kiss.

They broke apart. Umbilicus turned to Cookie, pointing at his mouth. Cookie pulled out a small container hidden in his fur, and Cutter swept down, taking it to Umbilicus for him to spit in.

‘I see how it is,’ said the yellow faerie as he spat. ‘You are mad at us for wanting to marry you, but all this time you were using us for our saliva!’

‘We should eat him anyways,’ said a red faerie, zipping over to her sister. The yellow faerie shrunk again, and her pretty features disappeared. She bore fangs and hissed.

Umbilicus dashed to Cookie, picked up the rat and ran. Cutter whooshed on ahead of them, taking the vial to safety. Umbilicus dashed out of the faeries’ garden and into the jungle, the faeries fluttering behind. ‘If we make it out of this alive, I promise you I will be a better crewmate,’ Umbilicus vowed to the giant rat in his arms. ‘I am sorry for not helping on the ship, and I am sorry that I thought you were weird. I mean—the majority of the crew is covered in fur. I only have some on my head and a couple other places. I am the weird one—not you.’

Cookie squeaked and hugged Umbilicus.

Umbilicus met the wall of a mountain. He surveyed their surroundings and saw that the faeries had cornered him. Cookie squeaked for him to halt his actions. In his arms, the rat took out a flare, aimed it at the oncoming faeries, and fired. As the sparkling little women fell, Umbilicus zigzagged past them. But the faeries were resilient – they rose from the dirt and continued the chase.

And soon Umbilicus and Cookie were cornered again when they reached the edge of a cliff. They looked at one another, knowing what had to be done. Cookie hopped out of Umbilicus’ arms and they drew their swords, ready to battle the faeries. Cookie squeaked his last squeaks.

As the faeries narrowed in, a paw grabbed Umbilicus’s shirt. Cutter held onto Umbilicus and threw him into the sky, squeaking to Cookie. With a running start, Cookie leapt off the cliff and grabbed Umbilicus’ boot. Cookie fought off the faeries, swinging his sword as he dangled from the knight, using Umbilicus’ body to sway back and forth. Cutter flew Cookie and Umbilicus out of faerie territory, passing all the sights the island had to offer, from the vast jungles to the colourful cluster of miniature volcanoes.

Arriving safely at the Fish House without a menacing faerie behind, Cutter dropped the two on the ship. Cutter swooped up back into the sky and fired his flare, signalling that they had completed their task.

They were fishing.

Brevis and Captain Brandy congratulated him with a pat on the back when they returned to the ship. They instructed the rats to store the gravy and faerie saliva; and they told Umbilicus that they needed to go fishing in order to trade for the last item that they needed from the island. Umbilicus initially thought they meant they were fishing for fish, but such was not the case.

According to Brevis, the bargaining with the store manager had not gone over well. Instead of the gold they usually requested, the trolls wanted selchie skin. The manager’s son had fallen in love with a selchie – a half human/half seal creature - who lived in Periwinkle Lake, but the selchie was (according to the manager) playing hard to get. She wanted him to work for her hand. Unfortunately, for the manager’s son, despite their fluffy and airy appearance, trolls were boulders. The poor lad would sink if he tried to fish her out.

The rats did not join, not that any of them wanted to. The rats were too engrossed with Cutter’s new faerie abilities. Thus, only Brevis, Captain Brandy, Umbilicus, and Dira were going fishing. However, the Captain and Brevis had explained that the fishing trip was to be a man-to-man bonding experience for Brevis and Umbilicus. Why the Captain came along perplexed Umbilicus until they reached the centre of the island where Periwinkle Lake was located.

‘I’m going to die,’ Captain Brandy said morbidly, a rope tied around the waist, gazing into the deep waters.

‘No, you are not,’ said Brevis, securing the rope to a large fishing rod made specifically for such occasions. ‘Just remember to pull twice when she tries to eat you.’

‘This is mad,’ said the Captain. ‘Do you want to be the elf for a day? Do you?’

Umbilicus could not agree more. It was mad. Apparently, whatever they were fishing for had a liking for elf meat, even if mostly human.

‘When have I ever let something eat you?’ asked Brevis.

The Captain stretched, preparing to dive. ‘I almost became a peg legged pirate when we were fishing for mermaids thanks to you.’

‘Yes, but there were harpies surrounding me,’ reasoned Brevis. ‘Surely, that does not count.’

‘I’m going now,’ said the Captain, waving goodbye. ‘If I don’t make it back alive, tell my rats I love them.’ With that, Captain Brandy dove into the lake, disappearing into murky, periwinkle waters.

Brevis sat with Dira and Umbilicus near the rod on the pebbled shore. ‘You have been quiet lately,’ he said.

Umbilicus shrugged. ‘I do not know what to say anymore.’

Brevis let out a dark laugh. ’Do you love the Princess? ″

Umbilicus frowned. ‘Of course I do.’

Brevis shook his head. ‘Why are you a knight?’ he asked, changing the subject. ‘It is clearly not in your nature. Other professions exist.’

‘I want to prove them wrong,’ said Umbilicus. ‘No one thought I would succeed in becoming a knight. They thought I have no worth.’

‘They?’ inquired Brevis.

‘Everyone!’ exclaimed Umbilicus, standing. ‘All I have is my pretty face, but a title shows them that they are wrong.’

‘You can show your worth without a title,’ said Brevis, frustrated with the knight’s perspective. His eyes remained riveted on the Captain’s lifeline. ‘Out here, no one knows me because of my blood. They know me because of what I have done. Have you heard anyone address me by my title? My actions speak louder.’

‘Then tell me, what can I do?’ said Umbilicus.

Brevis took several slow and deep breaths. The unjust hierarchy was how Tarsus functioned. Considering how young Umbilicus was, and how closed off Tarsus had become from the world, he could not fault the boy for not knowing better. ‘I will show you at the next port. You can learn a lot from Jonquil. I hope it will change your mind regarding what you must do to be a successful man.’

The rope flexed twice. Brevis and Umbilicus grabbed the rod and began winding, hauling Captain Brandy onto land with a seal woman latched on the arm.

‘I refuse to be a hook-armed pirate,’ said the Captain, hitting the selchie on the nose until she released him. Captain Brandy hastily got up and tugged the skin off. ‘To the troll’s village,’ the Captain directed, mounting Dira. The wolf dashed into the jungle, heading in the direction of the village, with a naked selchie chasing after for her hide, leaving Brevis and Umbilicus to collect the fishing equipment.

‘I thought you were joking when you said the troll wanted a selchie for a wife. Trolls are not even aquatic!’ Umbilicus said in shock.

‘That is why we needed to take her skin,’ said Brevis, coiling the rope. ‘It makes her terrestrial. Anyhow, we had better get there before we miss the party.’

Umbilicus grabbed the rod, and the two men continued chatting as they made their way to the troll settlement.

The trolls invited the Fish House crew to the celebration. They feasted and danced the night away, losing themselves in the festivities.

Glad that the interspecies couple had been readily accepted into the community, Captain Brandy cried tears of joy when the toasts were made. The son of the store manager was engaged to wed with the selchie. They were an odd couple, but he and the selchie had been courting for months. She assumed he would be the one to dive after her, but she was impressed with how the Captain had caught her for her beau and was thus happy to stay on land. However, the selchie did eye the Captain hungrily throughout the evening.

‘Over here,’ called Captain Brandy, past a crowd of trolls and rats, waving to Umbilicus.

Umbilicus went to where the Captain stood with Brevis, who held a bowl of a fluffy purple substance. ‘Try this,’ said Brevis.

Taking a bite-sized amount, Umbilicus set the substance into his mouth. He swallowed and scrunched his face. ‘What was that?’ he asked. ‘It is so sour.’

‘That, lad, was troll hair. Fresh from the source too,’ said Brevis, smirking. ‘Delicious, is it not?’

‘Does everyone eat everyone on this island?’ Umbilicus asked, alarmed.

‘I suppose,’ said Brevis, ‘but I rather like troll hair. It is like the most delightful combination of cotton candy and lemons!’

Umbilicus watched in disgust as Captain Brandy and Brevis ate the hair. ‘Why did they give you this anyways?’

‘Oh, this is the material they had left over from the cloth we ordered,’ said the Captain.

Umbilicus crossed his arms. ‘So we fished for selchie skin for cloth made of troll hair?’

‘Yes,’ answered the Captain.

‘Why?’ asked Umbilicus. ’I thought we were following a grocery list.′

The Captain shrugged. ‘Daffy wanted a new dress.’

‘Do not worry, Umbs,’ said Brevis, patting the discontented knight on the shoulder. ‘I promise you, we will be doing a bit of normal shopping and buying some normal food next. How else do you expect me to show you Jonquil?’

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