“My heart is pierced by Cupid, I disdain all glittering gold. There is nothing can console me, but my jolly sailor bold.”
The eerie sound of a mermaid called over the vast expanse of sea before them, the ship creaking with the weight of the churning waves below. The storm had been brewing for hours, and Piers knew it would come crashing down on them if they didn’t reach Hammerlocke in time.
“We’re more likely to get there in one piece if you don’t distract my crew,” he said dazedly, as much under the thrall of the voice as any of them, though he knew she was capable of leaving them all completely senseless rather than just vaguely intrigued.
“Not long till we make land.”
Piers opened his eyes to find Nessa had scaled the side of the ship while he had been lost in thought. He shook off the remaining fatigue and reached down over the railing, gripping her hands to hoist her up the rest of the way. She trilled in delight, fingers stroking where gills would be if he had them in greeting.
“We?” He asked, looking out in the direction they were headed. He was…perhaps a little overeager to get to the parley about to take place.
“Well, you will be,” she countered easily. “The ‘royal we’ or however you humans say it.”
“Better hope the ‘royal’ anythin’ isn’t there today,” he said cheekily, though the thought of everyone’s expression if Captain Leon suddenly burst in on their meeting was more amusing than he’d ever admit. In all honesty, he wouldn’t put it past the Crown’s favorite to get that helplessly lost. The man couldn’t find his way out of a narrow inlet with obvious land at three sides.
“Well, you’d better hope that. I wouldn’t mind seeing Milo again.”
“And he likely wouldn’t mind seein’ you. Nor Sonia for that matter,” he teased.
“They have good taste, if I do say so myself,” she replied haughtily, making him grin. “If only you could follow their example and get yourself someone of quality.”
He flicked her nose, leaning forward so she could climb onto his back and travel with him, her tail heavy but manageable enough. “I’m sorry, is ‘dragon with a hoard the size of a small island’ no longer in fashion then?”
Nessa hooked her chin over his shoulder, tsking at him in exasperation. “Not if he doesn’t love you. Thrice-damned blind fool. You could do better. And anyways, at least a third of his treasure came from stealing your loot.”
“Consider it my contribution to the household,” he quipped, trying to ignore how much his chest hurt. “A loveless marriage is a convenient one.”
“Sure, if there’s no love lost on both sides,” she said, stealing his hat and putting it on her own head. She bared her fangs at a pirate who was approaching them, no doubt to inform his Captain that they’d be making port soon. He hurriedly turned away, thinking better of the interruption. “But you, my dear, are tragically terrible at holding your ale and unfortunately that means I have to hear your heart breaking when you come back from these things.”
“Gives you prime singin’ material though, doesn’t it?” He said, not willing to give her the satisfaction. “How many ships have you lured to the rocks with my songs?”
“For the love of—just throw me back over the side of the ship if you’re going to be like that.” Her harsh tone was belied by the fact that she was petting over the sides of his neck worriedly. He carried her towards the bow of the ship so she could sit on the railing. “I just don’t like seeing you so miserable.”
“I know,” he murmured, letting her fret over him and return his hat. “M’not sayin’ it isn’t…difficult. But the cards fell where they did, and I certainly didn’t draw the worst hand.”
She looked away, nodding. “You’ll make it before the storm hits, don’t worry.”
“I’m never worried when you’re around.”
She laughed, shaking her head. “Strange, foolish human!” She kissed him on the cheek before she flipped herself gracefully off the ship.
“Be careful, I’ll wait in the caves to the East if you need me for anything,” she called up to him after she resurfaced, her voice carrying hints of a song and he waved down at her in thanks.
“You’re a treasure and no mistake,” he murmured, knowing she could hear him nonetheless. She beamed at him and flicked her tail, scales overtaking her entirely as she shot off into darker waters. He missed her already.
“She gone?” One of his crew looked over nervously and he patted the lad on the shoulder.
“Aye, but you know we’re safer when she’s with us than not,” he reminded him. “If one of you falls overboard, the chances of drownin’ are much slimmer when she’s nearby.”
“Course, Captain. It’s just, some o’ the lads, well, they think you’re either barmy or brilliant, tamin’ a fair sea lady like that,” he stammered, awe in his voice.
He smirked, ruffling the boy’s hair as he walked by. “Tamed, that’s a laugh! Don’t let her hear you say that. She could have had us all for dinner several times over if she so chose it. Just because she chooses to spare us doesn’t mean she can’t change her mind.” It was always better to keep the men on their toes. Nessa deserved every ounce of their respect, and he had never encountered another mermaid like her.
Her friendship was well-worth nearly drowning.
“Does she come around for your songs, Captain?”
Piers sighed and waved the boy away. “Don’t you have chores to do before we get to Hammerlocke?”
“Aw, please, sir! Promise I’ll finish it all right away. But your voice is even better than hers, I hear!”
He rolled his eyes to the heavens and leaned against the railing. “If that were true, we wouldn’t spend half the time we do takin’ on ships the old-fashioned way. I’d just sing them into the rocks and be done with it.”
“Wouldn’t be half as much fun either.” They shared a grin.
“No, it certainly wouldn’t. Now off with you, I need everythin’ in place before we arrive. We’ll not be comin’ back aboard this ship.”
The lad scampered off and Piers turned back to face the looming fortress he could just make out through the mist and grey of the sky. His heart beat harder in his chest, wondering if Raihan was already back yet, or if he’d be joining them that evening. He did so love a dramatic entrance. His hand came up to play with the gems at his neck, the weight of them comforting in the absence of his dragon’s warmth.
Not long now…
There was a flurry of activity as his crew called out joyously upon the first sight of land, their delight and relief buoying his mood. He strode to the middle of the deck, calling out orders to the helmsman to guide them in as they approached the docks, catching sight of half a dozen ships already there and waving his down.
His ship burst into song as they got closer, a bawdy tune that had those on shore shouting raucously and joining in, until the air itself seemed to echo their mirth. Eventually, their ship was pulled in and the crew greeted with hearty applause and people loudly talking over each other in excitement as they realized exactly which ship had just docked in their harbor.
“Is that the bloody Champion Time or has the mead finally sent me round the bend?” The familiar voice of Gordon was a welcome sound in the midst of all the chaos, and Piers suddenly found himself lifted up and squeezed within an inch of his life by his fellow Captain.
“Unhand me, you oaf!”
“Please, as if you ain’t dyin’ for a hug or five after how many months at sea? I swear you’ll kill yourself, mate, or turn into a siren with how long you spend out there,” the other laughed, patting him on the back when he set him back down.
“Hm,” Piers sniffed, trying and failing to hide his wide smile at his friend. “And yet, I seem to be the one in possession of Captain Leon’s beloved ship. If being out there too long makes me a fool, at least I’m now a wealthy one.”
“Aye, and you’ll not see me believin’ a single lie you tell about how you managed to get your hands on her!”
“Don’t worry,” Piers said, leaning in conspiratorially. “You’ll hear all seven versions of the tale by the time I’m out of the cups tomorrow.” Gordon roared his approval and bustled him off towards the fortress, both of them stopped frequently by townsfolk and fellow pirates alike. It was good to be home, whatever that term was worth outside of Spikemuth.
“Oooh, lad! You’ll have yourself a time trying to keep that ship through the night. Captain Raihan is going to covet that beauty something fierce,” Madame Opal said when he was pushed into a chair at the innermost tavern. He raised Gordon’s beer in salute, ignoring the other’s indignant protests at his drink being stolen.
“Not the only thing of Piers’ he’s going to covet,” a tired Bea said, slinging herself into the seat next to Opal.
“Please, Gordon, you weren’t the one that had to room next to them at the last gathering! Admiral Kabu’s walls are quite literally paper thin!” She griped, waving to Piers when he winked at her smugly. “Luckily I don’t have to put up with your wailing and warbling when we’re here.”
“I could get up on this table right now,” he threatened idly, watching her drain her flagon with a haunted look on her face.
“What? No repeats of the infamous Battle of Circhester?” Gordon cackled. Piers flushed, putting his head onto the counter despite knowing it probably wasn’t the cleanliest of ideas.
“It wasn’t even a battle! Just Piers drunkenly out-singing that poor bard as if he wasn’t already hopelessly outclassed already!”
Piers groaned. It was at the top of the list of reasons he would be going straight to Hell when Davy Jones finally caught up with him. Not the blood he’d spilled, nor the riches he’d stolen, not even for dragging his sister into this life when they fled from their burning city.
No, it was the crestfallen expression of a man just trying to do his job and make a living and the knowledge that the poor sod would never sing again in that town because Piers just couldn’t keep his gob shut.
“He was so off key,” he whimpered into the grainy wood. “I couldn’t take it anymore!”
“Here, here!” Opal said fervently, downing her fancy wine like it didn’t cost more than half the jewels in Hammerlocke’s vaults. “You did us all a favor, darling.”
“I don’t think—”
He was interrupted by a sudden round of cheers as Melony and Kabu strode in, the former Admiral with his crew of those previously employed by the Crown and the captain of Winter Gale saluting her son.
“Getting a head start on tomorrow’s regrets?” Kabu asked, and the tavern raised their glasses in agreement.
“Come on then!” Gordon cheered eagerly. Everyone was starting to head towards the massive Hall where thousands of people would stream in and out for the evening as they celebrated the gathering of pirate Lords. It was a rare occurrence for everyone to be able to meet all at once, and they never missed an opportunity when it presented itself.
Piers closed his eyes as they walked over the threshold of the fortress, the deep magiks of the place assessing him. It trailed over his spine and whispered across his cheek, an invisible caress that felt like Raihan as it greeted a familiar presence. The storm was growing outside, everyone pressing in too quickly for Piers to enjoy it for long.
Many of the Lords had homes and opulence aplenty, but nothing could come close to the splendor of a dragon’s keep, even if many didn’t know that’s what it was. The Hall could rival that of the King’s, its walls draped in tapestry and the finest rugs and cushions upon its floors with low tables scattered throughout. Countless people among them had never known such luxury, and it always ensured Raihan never wanted for a fine crew, everyone eager for a taste of the riches that came with following their Captain.
Hundreds upon hundreds of their people moved throughout the space, spirits soaring and music already in full swing as the pirate Lords stepped up to their table. More would join them soon, but for now, the festivities could commence and three or four days later most of the people gathered here would stumble back to their ships to begin the cycle anew.
“In all my years, I’ve not seen a gathering such as this!” Kabu’s voice rang out over the din of the crowd, everyone quieting as he walked the dais before them. None could make speeches quite like the former Admiral, a hush of anticipation riding on his words. “The legends of old hold no such tale as what I look upon tonight. I see before me not a mere collection of ships, no loose band of pirates, but a fleet. One to rival that of the Royal Navy, for we have called upon each other’s aid many times to fight back our enemies and those who would send us to our deaths below the waves.”
The crowd rumbled, many of them pleased at being reunited with the comrades that had fought together, won and lost together, and survived together.
“Our alliance stands strong, and we shall endeavor throughout these nights to strengthen the bonds of our leaders and our crews. Enjoy this time together and remember it when we go from this place to seek out fortune and new land, far from the reach of Galar’s King. Let none raise a sword against their family here tonight or any night we spend under the mighty keep of Hammerlocke. Let us parley!”
“Let us parley!” The crowd echoed on a roar, and Piers watched his crew salute the others with pride in his heart. It wasn’t what he would have chosen for himself, for his sister, for these people. But in moments like these when the cares of the world fell away and he could anticipate Raihan’s arms around him for the next few days, well…
A pirate’s life for him.