This is not my home. How did I get so far from water?
It must be over that way somewhere.
I am the color of wine, of tinta. The inside of my powerful
right claw is saffron-yellow. See, I see it now; I wave it like a
flag. I am dapper and elegant; I move with great precision,
cleverly managing all my smaller yellow claws. I believe in the
oblique, the indirect approach, and I keep my feelings to myself.
But on this strange, smooth surface I am making too much
noise. I wasn't meant for this. If I maneuver a bit and keep a
sharp lookout, I shall find my pool again. Watch out for my right
claw, all passersby! This place is too hard. The rain has stopped,
and it is damp, but still not wet enough to please me.
My eyes are good, though small; my shell is tough and tight.
In my own pool are many small gray fish. I see right through
them. Only their large eyes are opaque, and twitch at me. They
are hard to catch but I, I catch them quickly in my arms and
eat them up.
What is that big soft monster, like a yellow cloud, stifling
and warm? What is it doing? It pats my back. Out, claw. There,
I have frightened it away. It's sitting down, pretending nothing's
happened. I'll skirt it. It's still pretending not to see me. Out of
my way, O monster. I own a pool, all the little fish that swim in it,
and all the skittering waterbugs that smell like rotten apples.
Cheer up, O grievous snail. I tap your shell, encouragingly,
not that you will ever know about it.
And I want nothing to do with you, either, sulking toad.
Imagine, at least four times my size and yet so vulnerable... I
could open your belly with my claw. You glare and bulge, a
watchdog near my pool; you make a loud and hollow noise. I
do not care for such stupidity. I admire compression, lightness,
and agility, all rare in this loose world.
-- Elizabeth Bishop
The Red Sadness sails through the relatively calm waters of the Coral Sea. While the storm of the past two days had left the ship well off Captain Herrera's originally intended course, back to the busier shipping lanes near the Solomans and some potential bounty. In the meantime, all of the new recruits from Moonplum had been excused from their regular work.
Before dawn they were awakened by a stream of foul-mouthed invectives from the ship's master-gunner, Riaris Krine, pulled out of their hammocks, and marched up topside. As the sun began glimmering on the horizon, they found themselves floating in a pair of jolly boats, taking turns rowing to keep up with the big ship (though luckily with a trio of Thaduk's around, most of them were spared the workout).
Riaris stood balanced in the prow of the one boat, her mate Kipper in the other. By their command the two small boats rowed up to flank the Sadness, one on either side. Several ropes with grappling hooks attached are piled near them. "Alright you mong-loving dipstick assjackers! You and you!" she said, pointing to Caddis and Leopold as Rummy and Thaduk took turns with the oars. "Grab the ropes you pribbling pottle-deep tars, be quick!"
She took one of the grapples and demonstrates throwing it to latch onto the rail of the ship, then tied it off to a peg on the side of the jolly-boat. "Catch! Tie! Climb! Simple enough even you filthy motherloving landlubbers should be able to do it! If you fall off, you try again or your big friend will beat you senseless before supper!"
Caddis quickly grabbed a grapnel and easily tossed it up to catch on the ship's rail, then tied it off. "Now climb motherfucker!" came the cry from Riaris. Caddis scampered up the rope. About halfway up he was beaned by an empty rum-bottle, just part of a rain of garbage tossed at him by a couple of sailors in the aftcastle. Caddis held on despite the barrage and was soon back aboard the Sadness.
Leopold did not fair so well. It took him three tries, and much jeering from Master Krine, to catch the rail. Then, when he began to climb, a well-placed coconut from the deck knocked him clean off the rope and into the drink. Eventually, though, he managed to scramble back into the jolly-boat and up the rope to the deck.
Rummy went next, with little trouble, easily dodging the barrage of trash. Leaving only Riaris and Thaduk in the boat.
"Ship oars!" the gunner yelled. Thaduk took up the last grapnel and easily hooked the rail. Before he could start climbing, Riaris tied off the other ropes to his belt, "Haul us up!", she cried. And, sure enough, arm over arm, Thaduk hauled himself up to the deck of the Sadness, pulling the entire weight of the jolly boat up with him, with Riaris perched, balanced on the small boat as well.
The Moonplummers in the other little boat did not fair nearly so well. Henrye, Mace, and the other two Thaduks splashed about, often in the water, with many a missed throw of the grapples and many a face-full of trash. Helpful as ever, Leopold stepped up to the rail and sang out some encouragement for his fellow villagers.
As the party stood shouting encouragement to their compatriots, Fishguts made a rare appearance on deck, looking unusually sober, and tapped Caddis on the shoulder. "Cad, Cap'n wants crabs for his dinner tonight."
"Do we have any crab?"
"Course not, that'd be too easy!" FIshguts pointed to a shadow in the crystal-clear water, some hundred yards north of the ship. "You already got the boats out. Take your friends and row out to the reef over there, should be plenty of crabs to catch..."
"It's not that hard to catch crabs," Leopold pointed out, though it was clear he meant the other kind.
Rummy and Thaduk immediately lowered the jolly boat back into the water, and the four friends climbed down. Fishguts tossed them four large baskets and asked them to fill them up. Suddenly, Caddis thought to call back up, whining that they needed spears or harpoons in case the crabs were turtle-sized or otherwise put up a fight. Riaris, smiling, disappeared from the rail, returning moments later to toss three cutlasses down to them. At some additional prodding from Thaduk, Fishguts retrieved the collection of makeshift spears that Thaduk had made.
They began rowing out. Or, rather, Thaduk rowed, Rummy and Caddis stared over the side of the boat into the deep, clear water, pointing out sunken ships and other interesting features, and Leopold stood perched in the prow doing his best George Washington impression. A swift kick from Rummy sent Leopold toppling over the side into the water again. With Thaduk rowing, the jolly boat was well past before he came up, treading water and screaming the orcish word for whipped cream (the most vile-sounding curse word he knew).
The others picked him up and were soon floating over a beautiful coral reef, no more than five feet below the surface in some places. Through the clear water, they could easily spot several crabs skittering over the coral. "Let's make it a game and see who can get crabs the fastest," Caddis suggested.
"I already won that one," relied Leopold. Caddis, Thaduk, and Rummy dove in and started collecting crabs, with Rummy taking a quick lead in the competition. Leopold lounged in the boat, taking off his shirt to let it dry out, and keeping watch for anything bigger than a crab. Sure enough, he soon spotted a pair of creatures, looking like five-foot-long lobsters with their tails of eels, swimming towards them from deeper water. He quickly grabbed one of Thaduk's wooden spears and tossed it at the lobstrosities. While the spears buoyancy kept it from reaching the creatures, it did get their attention and they veered towards the boat.
Thaduk breached the water with a shirt full of crabs just as the two lobstrosities reached the boat. One of the creatures leaped into the boat, grabbing Leopold with both claws. The other latched onto Thaduk's leg. Paddling with his arms and kicking with his one free leg, Thaduk dragged the lobstrosity over to where he could grab the floating spear and dispatched the monster with a single blow. Even in death though, the creature remained fixed to his leg, its death throws only serving to dig the claw in deeper.
Rummy came up and pulled himself into the boat, grabbing a cutlass and swinging wildly at the one on Leopold. Much deeper than the others, Caddis looked up and, seeing the struggle in the boat, fixed the remaining lobstrosity with his evil eye, putting it to sleep. The creature slumped to the side, releasing its grip on Leopold. Caddis pulled himself into the boat and dispatched the beast with his claws, but, in its dying spasms, it again tore into Leopold, knocking him unconscious.
Rummy, ignore the shirt draped on the side of the boat to dry, pulled off Leopold's pants and tried to tie a tourniquet to stop the bleeding with them, but only managed to hurt his friend more. Thaduk swam over and grabbed one of the swords and used it to pry the other creature off of his leg, then dumped its body in the boat with Leopold, giving the bleeding bard even more scratches. Finally Rummy was able to stop the bleeding.
They quickly filled the remaining crab baskets and started to row back with their load of crabs and lobstrisities, which Caddis assured them were a delicacy. On their way back to the ship, Caddis spotted the wreck of an old ship, just past the drop-off of the reef, maybe a hundred feet deep. Curiosity getting the better of him, he left the others behind and swam down to check it out.
The deck was littered with bones and rusted weapons, the remains of the poor sots who died on deck before the ship could sink. There was one cannon that might have been salvageable, if he could find a way to haul it up, but little else of value, so he headed into what he assumed to be the Captain's cabin. Inside he found an old, rotting sea chest. The lock was rusted enough that he could easily break it open. Within were three fine bottles of very old French wine, a pair of finely carved chopsticks, apparently made from animal horn, and three wax-sealed ceramic ewers.
Caddis gathered up the loot and started swimming back to the boat, messaging Rummy and Thaduk with what he had found. Rummy immediately messaged back that he could see another lobstrisity swimming up behind Caddis from beyond the ship. Caddis swam as fast as he could, but the beast easily closed the distance. Caddis turned and gave it the evil eye, but it shrugged this off and swam on, catching Caddis in both its claws and tearing into his flesh.
Caddis desperately held on to his loot, glaring at the thing again, again with no result. Thaduk dove in, swimming down as fast as he could, ignoring the building pressure in his ears, and hurled one of his spears at the thing, putting all the power he could behind the throw to drive the weapon through the water. The spear struck home with tremendous force, splitting the lobstrosity from its mouth to its tail. They hauled the loot and the remains of the third lobstrosity up to the boat, then returned to the ship.
Seeing them return with a pile of succulent claws, most of the crew temporarily abandoned their work to rush to the rail and help the party haul their catch aboard. Somewhere in the chaos, Sandara Quinn managed to heal their wounds and Leopold disappeared, presumably absconded to his bunk with Tilly Bracket (willingly or no).
Caddis slipped down to the galley, carrying the things he took from the sunken ship before they could be confiscated by the ship's officers. He immediately opened one of the wine bottles, pouring a mug for himself and Fishguts. Fishguts used up the rest of the bottle cooking the lobstrosities. He secreted the chopsticks in a pocket, then started examining the ewers. Each showed signs of bas-relief markings, mostly worn away. He grabbed a cooled coal from the stove and some parchment paper from the baking supplied and took rubbings, revealing three names: "Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy", "Captain Sir Frederick Lewis Maitland", and "Commander Frederick Marryat". Presuming them to thus be funerary in nature (and thus not something he wanted to mess with further at the moment), Caddis stashed the urns in his locker.
Thaduk, meanwhile cornered Mr. Plugg, the First Mate, inquiring about his life on the ship, his plans, and other things. Caught in an unusually good mood thanks to the promise of lobster for dinner, Mr. Plugg explained about the battle with an imperial warship in which they lost much of the crew prior to the raid on Moonplum--a battle the pirates won, killing all of the sailors and sending the ship down to Davy Jone's Locker. He talked about life as a pirate and the fact that there really was no such thing as retirement--he couldn't go back to polite society for fear of being hanged, he might one day retire to "The Republic", but the only way he'd save enough money for that would be to become captain of his own ship (a thing he often dreamed of). He hoped that in one of their raids the Sadness might take a nice prize and that Captain Herrera might decide he'd like to be "Admiral Herrera" and let Mr. Plugg captain the new ship. When asked about "The Republic", Mr. Plugg told Thaduk about the Republic of the Bahamas, Though Thaduk had heard about the Empires unofficial war with the pirates of the Republic, he seemed surprised that it was so far away. "Aye, a five month voyage at the least...some of us have not seen a home other than this ship in a long time..."
After the chat, Thaduk and Rummy wandered down below decks where Caddis opened the second bottle of wine. Thaduk pointed out that the crew looked especially lax today, and that he'd probably have to punish quite a few people. So, they began plotting how they might use the unusual dinner as a distraction to help Thaduk once again give the appearance of doing his duty without having to actually beat anyone.
When the bell for Bloody Hour rang, they stopped by the galley to pick up the food. Fishguts passed them a giant platter of crabs, explaining that the logstrosities were destined for the officers, "but I can let you have a taste before the girls come to haul it off". They took the crabs and the evening's rum ration topside where the crew had gathered. Mr. Plugg and Master Scourge pulled nearly a dozen people out of the crowd to stand against the mast for a whipped, including all the four Moonplummers who had been less-than-successful in the morning's boarding exercise.
Unable to fake so many, Thaduk went ahead and whipped all the experienced pirates. Even holding back he shredded their clothes and left large welts over their already scarred backs. When he came to the Moonplummers, Caddis conjured up the sound of one of the crewmen saying "There aren't enough crabs for all of us, I'm eating now!" starting a minor riot near the food.
The distraction lasted only long enough for Thaduk to fake-beat his two uncles, before the officers delivered some ad-hoc beatings and pulled three more sailors up to the mast. Thaduk delivered some (light) lashes to these three, then returned to Mace and Henrye. Caddis this time tried a repeat performance of his Saint Elmo's Fire trick from the other day, which was enough to spare Mace any real discomfort, but not lasting.
Finally, with the officers paying a bit too much attention, Thaduk snapped the whip near Henrye and shouted some orcish curses (something about the proper way to eat crab claws), but did not hit him. At the snap, Henrye instinctively turned his head to glare at Thaduk. Caddis stepped in, "No, hit him right here..." he said, touching Henrye on the back and laying an illusion over him. Caddis stepped back, silently messaging Henrye that he should scream when the whip snapped. Henrye refused to play along, glaring defiantly at the two boys, until Thaduk was finally forced to whip him for real.
After the beatings, the officers, mouths watering, quickly retreated to the captain's quarters for dinner, the crew attacked the pile of crabs, and Caddis, Thaduk, and Rummy slipped off to cause some mayhem. Figuring the unusual meal would be a good and lasting distraction, the three of them headed for the officer's quarters. Caddis and Thaduk took up positions standing watch over the stairs leading up and down, respectively, while Rummy went to work on the lock using an old nail as a pick. Surprisingly it worked...
Pushing the door open a crack, he heard a loud sound, like a spring uncoiling, and suddenly found his arm pinned to the door by a harpoon which had piercing clean through his forearm. He gritted his teeth and stifled a scream. The door was now wide open and he was well and thoroughly stuck, and bleeding profusely. Caddis rushed down to check, the messaged for Thaduk, who came and broke off the shaft of the harpoon forcing it the rest of the way out of Rummy's arm (to more barely suppressed screaming).
They wrapped up Rummy's arm to staunch the bleeding and discussed how they could cover up the evidence of the forced entry. Of course, there was the bloody harpoon head embedded in the door and the massive pool of blood to deal with. They debated for a bit, then Rummy convinced them to let him look around before they tried to destroy the evidence, since the door was open anyways. Thaduk and Caddis went back to watch as Rummy cased the room.
The officer's quarters were cramped. There were a couple of windows in the rear, a couple of unlit lanterns hanging from the rafters, and two narrow doors, one leading off to either side. Six hammocks were strung up, each with a foot-locker, the same issued to the crewmen, though with better locks. Insufficient locks it seemed.
Rummy easily opened the first chest, easily identifiable as Mr. Pluggs by the presence of the old naval captain's uniform that he had worn during the raid on Moonplum. Inside were heavy-duty manacles, a crossbow, several bolts with heads carved into the shape of screaming human faces rather than typical points, other sundry items, and...a bag...that jingled...a lot. Rummy pocketed the bag of coins and closed the lid.
He then made his way around to the other footlockers. The second took slightly more time to pick, but included a very nice set of lockpicks which made the rest mindlessly easy for him to open. He was surprisingly reserved in his looting, passing over Riaris Krine's fine weapons, the carpenter's excellent tools, various flasks of potions, poisons, and alchemical items that the officers had collected, and even other coinage. In the end all he took was the lockpicks, Mr. Plugg's cash, some bandages from the ship's surgeon's stores, and one very large ruby from the gunner's mate's chest.
While poking around in the carpenter's chest, he found a secret compartment in the lid. Prying this open he found only a plain-looking brown woolen blanket, albeit a very tick, well-woven, and extra-warm looking one. Thinking gods-know-what, he took the blanket and spread it out overtop of the chests and bunks. Then, he lit one of the lanterns and smashed it down onto the blanket, dousing the heavy woolen thing with oil and lighting the whole on fire.
Then Rummy ran out the door and up the stairs...