The captain is sick! (gasp)
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As the seven sisters dawned over the far eastern horizon, sunlight scattered through the dense makings of the Neverwood canopy. The understory illuminated in soft emerald hues, and the air was gifted a quaint song of rustling leaves. The island was now in its golden hour, and the serenity of the morning was yet untouched. And further down below within the pirate's camp, things appeared to be oddly at peace. But this moment, no matter how it sparkled, was soon to expire. For all know there is no rest to be had for the wicked.
"Quell my qualms!" a voice cried out.
It was as if the cock's crow had taken new form this morning. Though in all actuality, this voice belonged to none other than Captain Gilly Thorn, now more upset than ever. She sat crossed and agitated on the cot in her dimly lit tent, attempting to slide on a new left boot. A new boot was sorely needed, seeing how the old left boot was tossed away after having been soiled by the river of vile now coursing through their encampment.
That incident, four moons past, "" a night forever remembered to them as "The Night We Killed The Cook" "" had taken its toll on the crew. And they were only now beginning to bounce back as it were. Well, all save for the captain, who was burning up and sweating profusely.
"I'm here, Madam! I'm here!" shouted another voice.
Long Tom poorly stumbled his way through the entrance holding a thick stack of documents. He was still having trouble adjusting to his new life as a one-eyed man, you see. And these papers spilling out from his hands were the many sheets calculating the expenses of just how much was lost during their sick days.
During the crew's terrible illness, things had become so tight that the captain herself, had to hang up her hat and serve as a nursemaid. The work was horribly menial "" nothing less than torture really. And to make things worse, the attention-starved dogs in her crew made sure to milk the occasion for as long as they could. Each would cry out for her to come by their beds and place a still, soothing hand on their forehead. Skylight's Bastard would not fall asleep without having a sea shanty sung to him, Robert Red moaned of soar lower back in need of a good rubbing, and Michael Risky wanted more of his "rum-rum" juice; for the pain, of course. Still, even with all this, the captain never once threw a single complain in the air. They were her dogs, after all. And that, we suppose, is why they loved her.
But that was all over now, and Captain Thorn was as cranky as a kraken. She had managed to work herself to exhaustion, and as mothers are often so disregarding of their own health when caring for others, she was completely unaware of her dire situation.
"What's wrong, Madam?" asked Long Tom.
"This boot is an ankle strangler, Mr. Foolery!" she complained. "How am I expected to lead an expedition to hunt down that subversive little worm, when I am given footwear fitted for an oriental bride? Take it away and bring me one of a proper sizing!"
"Nay!" he said in a shocking display of defiance. "I shall not."
The captain was more shocked than anyone. "Oh, I see," she said, attempting to rise in a threatening manner, but failing horribly. "Mutiny, is it?" As the sickly captain advanced, her legs gave out on her; and right when we ought to have seen her in a less-than-honorable state, her loyal accountant rushed to hold her up.
"S'not mutiny," Tom replied. "It's trepidation. Please, Capt'n, lay it down and rest a while."
"Nonsense!" she said, deliriously. "I've no time for sickness. Now tell me again, Mr. Foolery. Tell me the newest name on my naughty list."
"You mean, the Firstborn?" asked Tom. "It was Nowah, if I remember right."
"Aye," she growled. "I'll not forget it again; not til I give him that final kiss goodnight."
"But what about Pan, Capt'n?" Tom asked. "Aren't we still gonna feed him to the Croc?"
"One weed at a time, Mr. Foolery," Thorn responded. "Besides, how can I hope to slay that untamable spirit, if a simple lost boy can paralyze my crew in such a manner? No matter how tempting it is, I fear we must first finish our vegetables before we can set our eyes on dessert."
As Thorn attempted to break from Long Tom's assistance, she safely fell back in her cot. Although the captain had no time for sickness, It appeared that sickness had all the time in the world for her. And so, as the Thorn's iron will finally wore down, Long Tom laid the covers over her. He even put her ivory handled pistols, Grace and Favor, right beside her pillow to keep her company.
"Rest now, Madam," said Tom, "You've done enough. I'll have the new cook bake you a get-well cake. That'll fix you right up "" have you feeling bloodthirsty again in no time."
"D""don't stray too far, my sweet" moaned a weakened Thorn.
This made Tom smile from ear to ear. On many long, cold nights at sea, Tom would often be found about the bow, wishing upon shooting stars for the day when his captain would depend solely upon him. And he could, once and for all, prove himself a useful tool. Now his chest swelled pridefully, feeling that the spotlight had finally fallen upon him.
"Aye aye, Capt'n," Tom replied. "I'll not be too far off."
"That's my James." she replied.
Long Tom quickly put his fingers in his ears and pretended not to hear a thing.
Almost in the very instant Tom had exited the tent, a curious little girl had wandered on in. And following close behind her was a shadow. The shadow itself was a peculiar thing as it bared very little resemblance to the girl, but was instead strikingly reminiscent to that of another child. It slipped through the walls of the tent like a mother's kiss in a nursery. Farther and farther they entered, until a sound was made that sent Thorn squirming in her bed.
"Is that you, Mr. Foolery?" she said groggily. "Where are my rum-scented candles?"
The girl and the shadow looked at each other blankly, neither knowing what to do. "Ahem," said the girl in a voice mimicking Long Tom. "It's on the cake, Capt'n."
"Oh yes, of course," she said. "Happy Birthday James! My sweet, sweet boy!"
At once the two ran and took cover, for not soon after, Long Tom came stumbling back in a panic. He stood loyally, ready to serve at her beck and call, but when he spoke, Thorn only replied in half-muttered sentences. Long Tom glanced around the room suspiciously, and then shook his head as he made his way out again. But just before he left, he stumped his toe on the nightstand and made the most pathetic moan. It was so pathetic that both the girl and the shadow were made to throw their hands over their mouths to keep from laughing.
"Blast below!" he shouted, examining his foot. "I've acquired a splinter! Have to let the surgeon look at this now. He'll certainly wish to saw me through."
Now that the tent was silent, the girl had time to notice the queer décor of the tent. It was akin to the distant aunt of yours "" the one whose house is full of chairs not meant to be sit on, and plates not meant to be eaten off, and towels not meant to be touched. And while the adults are talking you wonder to yourself what is the point; and when you grow older you come to find that sometimes, people simply do silly things in the name of art.
Gilly Thorn had many strange artifacts from foreign places few on the sea had the gall to set sail for. And upon her desk was a small crawfish in a bowl labeled: Crawfie's Home. And next to the same desk was an elegantly crafted treasure chest of gold and ivory; and there were many strange sounds coming from inside it. The girl tried to pry it open, but it would not give. Furthermore, it had three separate keyholes needed to unlock it. It was all as well, for the chest must remain utterly oyster. The very contents of it would certainly be enough to cause a stir in the royal palace, and spark the second great fire of London.
But let us hush now, for the shadow whispers again. Can you hear it? What does it say?
"No!" complained the girl. "I have reached the end of it, Shadow. Three nights searching and still no sign of our treasure."
The girl then boldly climbed into bed with the captain, snuggled close, and pulled the covers over her head. She smiled as Thorn unconsciously wrapped her arms around her. "She is nice and warm now," said the girl. "but soon she will grow cold. I shall wake and take my leave when that time comes. Shadow, find a nice dark place to hide, will you?"
As the day went on, many pirates came in and out the tent, and quickly word began to spread that the captain might not come out of this alive. Hour by hours the others began quietly leaving behind wreaths decorated with lavender in Thorn's tent. Lavenders were always her favorite flower. She often spoke highly of them, saying that of all the plants she's ever known, they had the best form. Once a crewmate asked exactly how it was that a flower could have any form at all, but Thorn merely scoffed at him. We suppose there is unique bond between flowers and ladies that men will simply never understand.
Later that evening Long Tom was the most surprising of all when he limped into the tent with his newly acquired wooden leg. He entered with Michael Risky and Bill Angst, and everyone of them had a long face.
"It's been a while now, and she's still not better," said Risky. "Will she make it?"
"Perhaps it's time to set ol Elmo alight," said Angst.
"Never!" said Tom. "The Captain will cure in no time, you'll see. And until she does I shall be here by her side."
Long Tom fumbled his way to the ground and made a bed for himself.
"I'll not leave either," said Risky.
"Make room for me," said Angst. "I'm just as true as any of you."
When nightfall had come and the camp was quiet, the little girl rose slowly from underneath the covers to find the tent filled with pirates. They were stuffed like sardines and slept on the floor near the captain's bed. Long Tom laid closest. In that moment, an alarming thought crossed the girl's mind to slay all of them in their sleep, but luckily for them, she decided against it. Instead she turned her attention to their captain.
"We're quite similar, aren't we?" she whispered, caressing Thorn's fevered face. The girl then caught a glimpse of the shadow who had now stealthily slid onto the bed. "Shadow," she said. "I was thinking; it might be that we actually need her later on. So perhaps it is better she not die just yet." She sighed. "Tell no one of this, Shadow, or I will cast a light on you!" In a surprising act of kindness, or cold, calculating strategy "" we can not know which as she is still a mystery to us "" the child gently kissed the captain on the forehead. And just like that, the fever broke and Thorn was better again.
Thorn then woke sometime later as if from a pleasant dream. Rising she found her tent full of pirates lying on the floor next to her bed like a litter of puppies. Two shots from Grace and Favor sprung the men up so fast that they all hit their heads one after another. After getting oriented, one pirate looked up in utter shock.
"Shiver me timbers!" he said as the frightened crew beheld their captain, once knocking at deaths door, but now sitting before them with a sinister grin.
"Hell hath no fury," said Bill Angst, aghast.
"The Devil spat her back out!" said Michael Risky.
The men broke out in cheers!
"As I stated before," said Thorn. "I shall not rest in this life or the next until all my qualms have been met and thoroughly satisfied." Long Tom rose awkwardly to his one good foot, fighting back tears. Thorn looked absolutely perplexed. "Why, Mr. Foolery, you've lost a leg!"
"Aye, Capt'n, but I didn't lose you," he replied. "So all in all I'd say the day's been a success."
A swell moment passed over the crew, but it lasted only briefly. Soon after the captain was back barking orders at her men. Each went fleeing this way and that way, preparing for the morning when they were to finally pull out. And once they were back in the tent, Long Tom begun helping Captain Thorn settle down for the night.
"What's wrong, Capt'n?" he asked, noticing a slight change about her.
"I woke with a queer and curious feeling," she said.
"Oh?" he replied. "How so?"
"Twas as if I was being cradled in the arms of my beloved mother."
"Perhaps it was because I was caring for you?"
"No, no," she replied, dismissively. "Twas the sweetest voice I heard in my dreams; a voice fallen straight from heaven itself. Could only be the voice of an angel."
"Aye, the Angel of Vengeance," she replied. "And she told me exactly how it was that I could enact my revenge on that little weedling."
"You mean Nowah?"
Captain Thorn winced. "Please, Mr. Foolery, I"ve only now begun to recover. Do not further sicken me with the sound of that wretched child's name."
"Sorry, Capt'n," he said. "But how do you know this was anymore than a fever dream?"
The captain smiled. "When I awoke, I found this covering me," she said, holding a white shawl.
"What is it?" asked Tom.
"Tis a hug."
"Aye," the captain replied. "A mother's Hug!"
Long Tom's eyes gave the glint of a silver coin. "We could sell it!" he said. "Then we could afford a whole fleet of ships. Why, Capt'n, you could be a commodore. Commodore Thorn, Queen of the Seven Seas. I could even hold your hat while you're away."
"You tempt me, Mr. Foolery," she replied. "But nothing can cover the cost of the injustice done onto me, nothing save the blood of the guilty. And so I will use this hug to further my schemes. Such a thing t'would fetch a handsome ransom though, don't you think?"
"Yes, but to whom does it belong?" he asked.
"To that little lovely traveling with the lost boy."
"You mean, the dwarf?"
"She is no dwarf, you half-wit. She is a girl. And this is her hug, lovingly knitted by her own dear mother. See here "" her initials are woven into the cloth."
Long Tom touched the letters on the fabric and thought very hard to himself. "S.I.L," he said, thinking hard to himself. "What was her name again?"
"Sarah Isabella Lovely."
"Aye," he said. "That's it! But why would a child leave something as precious as a hug just lying around?"
"Oh, who knows?" she replied. "Children are woefully ignorant to the true value of things. But when the winds of fall begin to blow, and a shiver runs down their spine, they then see how precious a mother's hug is; but sadly it is no longer afforded to them. Likewise, I shall use this to take away what that Nowah holds most precious to him. But I will need your help in doing so Mr. Foolery."
"My help?" he said, elated.
"Aye," she replied. "I need you to balance the books. And then go and balance them again! For three days from now we shall put on a proper play, starring yours truly."
"Can't you feel it, Mr. Foolery? The curtains are soon to close. We must quickly make our way onto center stage before the story ends. First, I will play the role of the fairy godmother. And with this lovely hug of hers, I will convince Sarah to return home. That needy Nowah will no doubt be heartbroken, at which point he will do as all children do, and run home. And when he does, we shall be lurking close behind until we come upon it."
"And then?" said Long Tom in rising anticipation.
"We'll blast it to smithereens!"
Long Tom broke out in applause. "A brilliant ending!" he said. "every bit as dastardly one would expect from a heart as cold and shriveled and shredded as yours."
Thorn gave a modest laugh. "Oh, Mr. Foolery, you flatter me. But can I count on you to prepare everything according to what I need?"
"Aye aye, captain!" he said, hobbling out the room. "You can count on me."
That night Captain Thorn laid back in her cot completely at rest with a smile on her face. That was, until she saw her shadow on the wall.