The Game is Afoot

After narrowly avoiding involvement in a “three wishes” story, and believe me when I say that granting wishes for a pirate crew is an activity designed to end badly for everyone, we sailed north with all speed. I hoped we were leaving the Forgotten Isles behind, but it’s always perilously difficult to be certain of such things. Storyland’s oceans will take a sailor where they will, and all a captain can really do is set a course and cross his fingers. One never really knows what exotic and deadly entertainment may be about to cross one’s path.
The morning after we left what the crew would forever call “Timbers Island”, I took tea with the figurehead as the sun rose out of the water on our starboard side. I drank with my hands curled around my mug, enjoying its warmth, and the Heart copied me, though I know she doesn’t feel the cold. As she lowered the oversized “world’s best ship” mug the crew had given her, a thought occurred to me.
“If you don’t mind me asking my dear,” I said, “where does the tea go when you drink it?”
She shrugged her naked, wooden shoulders, red hair whipping about in the wind. “You’d have to ask the Doc,” she said in her musical voice. “All I know is it feels nice as it goes down,” she cocked her head as if listening. “Something’s happening.”
“What?” I said, gulping the last of my tea and setting the mug down on the deck.
“Young Roger is scrambling down from the crow’s nest.”
“But he hasn’t called an alarm. Hmmm.” I knew this wasn’t good. My cabin boy was a quick lad, and a capable student. If he’d seen something and failed to call out it was because he wanted me to know before the crew.
I watched with some admiration and amusement as the boy slid down the main mast, landed lightly on the deck, took a deep breath and sauntered nonchalantly towards the bow.
“Morning, Roger,” I said as he approached.
“Mornin’ Cap’n,” he replied, looking around to check for prying ears.
“Can I help you?”
“Sails to the north, sir.”
“And what makes them special, Roger? Why didn’t you just call out?”
He smiled nervously, “Pink sails, sir,” he said, dropping his voice.
“Ah. Very good, Roger. Take an extra ration of rum.”
“The rum’s gone, sir,” he said, a puzzled look on his young face. “The rum’s always gone, sir.”
I nodded. “We must find another way to reward your quick thinking then. Tell Yoko to meet me in my cabin as soon as possible, then you may go about your work.”
“Yes, sir.” He took the two empty mugs from the deck and scrambled away. I turned back to the figurehead. She’d retrieved, from whichever mysterious place she keeps such things, an ornately carved spy-glass. She lifted it to her face and squinted through it.
“He’s right, pink sails, and lots of guns. It’s the Scorpion alright.”
By now I was looking north through my own spy-glass, though all I could make out was a vague pink blur on the horizon.
“You’re sure it’s them?”
“Of course, Captain.”
I felt my stomach turn over at this news. My feelings about the Scorpion, and particularly about her captain, have always been somewhat complicated.
“Yoko is waiting for you, Captain,” said the ship. “He’s quite nervous, I think.”

As I made my way across the main deck, Polly fluttered down from the rigging to take her habitual place on my shoulder.
“You’re grinning,” she said, flapping her green and blue wings as she settled.
“No I’m not.”
“Yes you are. You’ve seen the other ship, haven’t you?”
“Sort of … not really, but luckily both Roger and the Broken Heart have better eyes than me.”
“And you’re going after her?”
“No doubt she is also looking for Green-Beard’s treasure. Why else would two pirate ships be in the same waters?”
“Why indeed,” said Polly, dryly, almost rolling her eyes, “but that isn’t what I meant and you know it. You’re hoping for more watermelon cocktails with Captain Red aren’t you?”
“What will be will be,” I said, allowing my grin to broaden.
“She can’t be trusted, you know,” said Polly, though her heart clearly was’t in it.
“I know,” I deadpanned. “She’s a pirate. I can’t really hold that against her, can I?”
“I’m not doing that joke, Captain,” said Polly, sternly.
“Fair enough.”
“And frankly you should be ashamed of yourself.”
“I frequently am,” I said, still grinning.

Yoko Geri, my first mate, was waiting for me in my chart-room, his huge grey beard looking even more bushy than normal, chewing nervously on on apple, no doubt recently purloined from the fruit bowl on my desk. I didn’t mind - we had acquired a great surplus of fruit during our stay on Timbers Island.
“Good morning, Yoko. I trust young Roger filled you in?”
“He did indeed, Captain,” said Yoko.
“The crew will find out shortly,” I said, sitting down at my desk as Polly fluttered over to her perch in the corner of the room. “Someone will recognise the Scorpion from those damnable pink sails. I want you to make sure there is no embarrassing debacle this time.”
“But, sir, it’s a ship of lady pirates! Ladies what get it, sir. Ladies what is strong and tough as the lads is themselves. Ladies what can sail an’ fight an’ drink an’ swear like … like … like pirates, sir! You can’t blame the lads for bein’ a little confused when we’re up against a thing like that.”
“I get it, Yoko, believe me I do,” I said, ignoring Polly’s derisive squark. I really did get it. An image of Captain Nikki “Red” Robertson and her glorious flashing blade came, unbidden, to my mind. Now there was a woman who knew how to buckle her swash… “But it doesn’t matter. We are the Broken Heart, Damn it! We are the best sodding pirate crew Storyland has ever seen and it will take more to beat us than thigh-length boots and a spot of perfume, do you understand me, Yoko?”
“I do, sir. I’ll do what I can, sir.”
“Very good. The Scorpion’s sails are on the northern horizon, which means they’re ahead of us.”
“You think they’re after the treasure as well, sir?”
“I don’t think there can be much doubt about that, do you?”
Yoko thought about it for a few seconds.
“Reckon you’re right, sir. That might help the lads keep their mind on the job.”
“I think that might be a bit optimistic.” I said.
“I don’t know, pirates love gold as much as they love … well y’know, sir.”
“And when pirates get gold, what’s the first thing they spend it on?”
“Rum, sir,” said Yoko without hesitation.
“And when the rum is gone?”
“Ah. I see what you mean, sir. Well, maybe the thought of rum will help.”
“Maybe it will. Get it done, Yoko. I want us close enough to signal before nightfall, and there will be no ridiculous displays, from any of us. This is a deadly rival we are approaching, and the crew will remember that.”
“They will at that, sir,” said Yoko as he left.

A few hours later, when Roger brought in my lunch, I was poring over my charts, such as they were. “Ah thank you, Roger, set it down over there. How is Cook doing with the new supplies?”
“Enjoyin’ himself a little too much as usual, sir, but don’ worry I gave his concoction to the cat. You got my mackerel sandwich, sir.”
“You’re a legend, Roger, thank you. Help yourself to fruit and chocolate if you like. I’m sure he’ll settle down once we’ve been at sea for a few more days. While you’re here, come and take a look at this.” I stepped aside, eager to see if he could put it together.
He went to the treasure map first, noting how I’d folded it so the faded coastline fitted into a gap in the larger chart. Then he looked at where I’d marked our position, and that of the Scorpion.
“They don’t know about the treasure, sir,” he said at length.
“Well, assuming you’ve charted their position correctly, and I’d be surprised if the Heart let you get that wrong, then they’re headed in the wrong direction. It’s subtle, but if they had a copy of the map they’d be about here,” he said, placing his finger on the chart, a few inches east.
“And what conclusion can you draw from this?”
“Well it’s just a guess, sir, but it’s possible that they knew we was into somethin’ and they was following us. Then we got stuck at Timbers Island and they got ahead of us, and now they’re pokin’ about lookin’ for whatever we was after, sir.”
“Well done, boy,” I said, “That’s what I thought as well.”
Captain. said the voice of the Broken Heart, reverberating through the deck and the walls.
“Yes, my dear?”
I believe the Scorpion has come about.
Yes, Captain. They are sailing towards us. We’ll be in range of their long guns in less than an hour.
“Oh I don’t think they’ll want to sink us, at least not yet. Roger, go fetch Yoko and the Doc, quick now. The game is afoot!”