The tavern was alive with the sounds of cheery fiddles and drunken dance steps. Pointless conversations floated upon the thick atmosphere of sweat and bad breath. A man passed by you, staring with strained eyes as if trying to ascertain which gender you were—apparently your masculine disguise was working perfectly. You adjusted your dark hat further down over your eyes, pushing your way past the confused barfly towards the back of the building.
At last, you spied who you were looking for. A burly man with a brandy-stained beard and a jungle of chest hair sat at a long table in the corner near the bar. His eyes were made of cold steel; his missing left arm and numerous scars showcased his seasoned prowess as a pirate. A large book lay open before him, its yellowed parchment awaiting the signatures of new recruits he deemed worthy to join his crew.
This was your chance; it was now or never.
You bravely sauntered up to the table, putting on your best manly air.
“I’m here to sign up,” you said in an awkwardly low voice, sounding much like a teenage boy going through puberty.
The pirate looked you over with a breathy scoff. After a moment, he leaned forward in his chair and reached for the roster. The deafening thunder of the pages slamming together made your stomach sick with a rush of fear, but you held your ground.
“Oy, what the hell?!” you exclaimed, slapping your palm onto the table.
The pirate snarled, revealing crooked teeth in desperate need of a good brushing.
“Ye canna’ fool a keen eye such as mine, lass. I know ye be a wo—”
The cool steel of your dagger pressing against his jugular quickly shut him up.
His grin widened as he held up his palms in peace.
“Methinks ye be no mere lass after all.”
You smirked, retracting your blade.
“Glad to see you acknowledge your grave mistake. I didn’t know pirates had brains.”
He broke into a riotous laughter, his enormous fists pounding on the table turning the attentions of everyone in the tavern in his direction. Once he finished, he wiped a tear from his eye and placed his fingertips atop the book.
“Ye may have the will and the skill t’ be a sailor, missy, but I’m afraid there’s naught I can do for ye. Ye see…” He leaned over the book in an ominous fashion, as if he were telling a ghost story to a child. “It be the luck of the devil to bring a woman aboard a ship, young lass.”
You returned his warning with a defiant grin.
“Why do you think I’m dressed as a man, then?”
The pirate laughed once again, though not quite as loud as before.
“I like ye, missy! Ye got the silver tongue o’ me own mother, God bless ‘er!” He held out his hand in a friendly gesture. “Me name’s Barnabus McCloud, but since I like you, you may address me as Mickey. A pleasure, my lady.”
You took his hand, shaking it in greeting.
“I’m ____________. The pleasure’s all mine.”
Mickey nodded his head in approval.
“A lovely name, indeed.” He flipped the book back open and handed you a quill. “A name I would be honored to include in our register.”
You fought to quell the bubbles of excitement leaping in your chest as you took the black feather and scribbled your signature at the bottom of the list.
“Now,” Mickey said, making the chair creak as he leaned back in his chair. “Wait out back near the docks. I’ll be along later, and ye new recruits will get to meet the captain.”
It had been two hours since you arrived at the docks, and still there was no sign of Mickey. You waited in a dark corner sitting atop a wooden barrel, discreetly eyeing the five other new members lollygagging around the area. There was nothing particularly distinguishable about any of them—just your run-of-the-mill sewer rats looking for a way out of their misery in search of adventure.
You, however, had a much greater motive for taking on the high seas—and the sooner you left the better.
You wrapped your coat tighter around your lithe body and brought your knees together in attempt to block out the chilly midnight air. A nearby recruit’s pig-like laughter made you turn your eyes up from the cobblestone.
“Look’a this, boys! The boy here can’t take the cold! Look’a ‘im sittin’ like some little ‘fraidy girl!”
He was drunk beyond the threshold of whatever pea-brain he possessed—betrayed by his slurred speech and staggering posture. You snarled in disgust as he approached you, the scent of alcohol stinging your nostrils.
“Iffin’ ya want, I can keep ya warm…”
You choked back the enormous urge to gag as his beer breath punched you in the face. Your quietly moved your fingers downward under your coat, curling your fingers around the hilt of your trusty dagger. You knew it would be grounds for treason to kill a fellow crew member, and you had not even set foot aboard the ship yet; still, if this bastard tried anything untoward, you would simply have to make it look like an accident.
“No thanks,” you replied flatly. “You’re not my type, son.”
The drunkard growled, sweat pooling on his brow.
“I’ll not have ya be makin’ a fool outta me, boy! I’ll show you who the ‘son’ is ‘round here!”
As he moved to grab your coat collar, you readied your dagger; however, the sound of a gun firing distracted both you and your assailant. You tilted your head rightward, catching sight of Mickey holding a pistol in the air. Tendrils of smoke slithered up from the barrel—a sight that chilled you to the bone. You made a silent note to yourself to never get on Mickey’s bad side.
“Somethin’ the matter, lads?” Mickey asked casually, lowering his gun.
You shrugged. “Nothing’s the matter on my end. This gent seems to be the one with the problem.”
The drunk’s grip trembled as Mickey’s footsteps boomed toward him. He began to giggle uncontrollably, eventually so lost in his own head that you slipped out of his hands with ease.
“Hoy there, Mickey! Ain’t no problems here, no sir! The boy was chilly, see, so I—”
The drunk froze. Crimson showered down the back of his head and pooled at his feet. He fell to the hard ground in a sickening lump, his blood flowing in snake-like rivulets towards the black water below the docks.
You looked at Mickey, filled with relief that you managed to get out of the way in time.
“Not that I’m not grateful, but what the hell was that?” you inquired.
Mickey laughed. “He called me Mickey, and I didn’t like him.”
You gave him an impressed smirk.
Suddenly, the creaking sounds of a ship pulling in to port turned your attention back to the dock before you. Your jaw nearly dropped into the pool of blood at your feet. The ship was unspeakably grand. Tall masts stretched to the full moon, their bold white sails cascading down to the massive deck. The wood appeared to be in the most pristine of conditions, not a single carbuncle or rotted spot to be seen. The symbolic flag of the pirates was hoisted high and glowed under the moonlight; the way the wind blew made the skull look as if it were laughing.
Your heart started to pound. This was real… wasn’t it? You could scarcely believe your plan was working. You clutched your dagger. It would not be much longer now…
The ship finally came to a stop, and crew members immediately began scurrying about in preparation to anchor. Some men untied the ropes on the starboard side to lower a plank for boarding.
Mickey chuckled under his breath. Curious, you tore your eyes away from the ship and cast a glance his way.
“Excited?” you asked, grinning.
“I always get excited just before getting aboard a ship, missy,” he answered. “It lets these old bones know that I still be free.”
As you stared at him in awe, he slapped his large hand on your shoulder.
“Ah, there he is! Here comes ol’ Cap’ Kirkland now!”
“Somebody say my name?”
You returned your eyes to the dock.
A tall, trim man with wild blonde hair and striking emerald eyes strode atop the wood which gracefully pounded as his booted feet stepped across it. He donned an elaborate red coat decorated with black and gold trim around the collar and sleeves. His handsome head bore a black captain’s hat, vibrant with red and white feathers and frills. He was every bit the sea captain—right down to the skull-shaped rings decorating his long fingers.
He smiled at you, and for some reason your heart tightened.
“Not a very large crop, Mickey,” he said, looking to the man next to you. “But I didn’t think this would be a very promising port anyway. And I see you already had to dispose of one.”
“That may be, Cap’, however,” Mickey said, gripping your shoulder and shaking you slightly. “I did manage to find at least one who struck my interest. Taken a liking to this one, I have!”
Captain Kirkland once again looked at you, studying every inch of you. You fought with all your might to suppress the heat rising in your face and neck. Did he notice your secret just as Mickey had?
If he did, he did not let on, as he held out his hand to you with a satisfied smirk.
“A pleasure, young lad. My name is Arthur Kirkland, but you will address me as Captain. What name might I call you?”
You gulped, gathering your resolve. “I am __________ ___________, sir. I am honored to be chosen as part of your crew.”
You took his hand, and he gave it a meaningful shake.
“Well then,” he whispered coolly, “Shall we set sail?”
~ TO BE CONTINUED ~