Life was certainly a bitch onboard that bastard of a ship. I solemnly swear that I didn't get my gold's worth when I picked up that cursèd quill and signed up as a passenger onboard the Narwhal — my hell hold to be. If only had I known what it was that I was getting myself into...
I'll tell you what happened because my tale hasn't been told yet and I have decided that you shall be my first. I know that this story may sound exceedingly unbelievable to some, but I assure you that it actually happened and everything that I shall say is true. Belief or disbelief lies with you - It's your choice.
This was how I saw it through my eyes...
It was a dark summers afternoon and the seagulls were out in vast numbers, circling the bustling activity that was scourging the crowded harbour below. The departure day had come at last for the Narwhal, one of the fastest ships to ever set sail from the Noonvale shores. She was a fleet-of-sail longship capable of transporting over one hundred men (including crew) across the ArcticeOcean to the MalteeseIslands that lay dormant in hiding on the other side of the horizon.
I ran as fast as I could towards the marvellous timber structure that sat bobbing up and down upon the ebbing tide. The sight of the Narwhal was certainly a breathtaking view. She was a rare breed of war galleon, much larger than the others of her kind and was obviously constructed with more aggressive ventures in mind. At regular intervals, large black holes appeared along the sides of the ship. As I drew closer, I realised that each had a sturdy ballista capable of firing iron shod spears hiding behind it. The Narwhal was prepared for anything.
The wind had started to pick up and the waves were tipped with the slightest caps of white. It was essential that I got there on time.
My occupation as a wandering historian and archaeologist had tossed me all over the seas like a floating bottle, searching for rare books and religious artefacts alike that would aid me in my search for the knowledge of what had once befallen these lands in those long lost years of long ago. My eager and awaiting profession had somehow grasped hold of stimulating information that revealed the location of an ancient city that had been consumed by the Malteese Jungles in the centuries that had once gone past. I believed there to be untold amounts of ancient scriptures just waiting to be uncovered.
That was why my life depended on getting aboard that ship. It was my only passage to those islands and I had to get there before my fellow rivals and desperate treasure hunters. One of my main goals in life had always been to beat them to the game.
I knew that it would be difficult getting a position on the Narwhal with it so close to departure, though my pockets were jingling with wealth and I was certain that I could easily buy myself in with a desirable sum.
I jogged hesitantly down the cobblestone path with the sound of rattling coins echoing all around me. Many sinister faces turned from their daily conversations to eye my bludging pockets cravingly, licking their slobbering lips with temptation. I was thankful that all this gold would be soon deprived of me to the Narwhal's Captain and I needn't to worry about being mugged and beaten to a pulp by some drunken pirate.
Increasing my pace, I strolled up to an odd looking fellow standing by the boarding ramp who looked somewhat important. He was dressed in rich, pompous clothing and it appeared that he was taking some form of roll. I imagined that he'd be of decent rank in the hierarchy of shipmen.
"Who do I go to if I want passage onboard this vessel?" I asked him earnestly, "Would it be too late for a position?"
The man didn't bother to look up from his papers as he spoke. "No places available, come back in a couple of months."
I then withdrew the bag of coins from my pocket and jingled it teasingly in front of his face. The man's gaze slowly slid from the papers to the gold, and eyed the pouch of metal hungrily. He suddenly snapped to attention, tossed aside his papers and snatched the coinage from my palm with a giant grin, "I would be obliged if you were to join me onboard the ship. I'm sure we can arrange something."
I gave the man a curious stare before he ascended up the ramp and onto the deck of the ship. Something didn't feel right. He didn't seem like a man to be trusted. Trusted men are difficult to come by in these parts of the world.
I brushed aside the odd emotion and continued to pursue the man who was disappearing with my currency. I hastened myself to catch up for I feared that he may turn out to be an opportunist and would make some daring escape by jumping overboard. Not much to my surprise, the man was a decent fellow and was waiting patiently by a wooden cabin door, beckoning me to follow him inside.
The man paused just before he turned the doorknob. "Whatever you do, be sure not to challenge the Captain's word. Go along with whatever she says and you should be just fine."
The Captain sounded like a real terror. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. In my head I had fashioned this vision of a woman with cold eyes and a rock hard jaw seated behind some polished maple desk, waiting willingly to throw overboard all those who dared to defy her reason. Her hair would be dirty, greasy and all tied up in a fat bun. Perhaps she would hold a scar or two from various mutineers whom she had all sent previously to their watery graves. Much to my surprise this time, one part of my expectation was correct — that the Captain was seated at a polished maple desk.
She spun in her chair and I was immediately rewarded with the face of a bounteous beauty, a fallen star from the heavens. She drew back the hood of her crimson cloak, allowing her glowing black hair to fall about her shoulders. "Welcome aboard my ship good Sir," she said, her sweet voice like the whisper of an owl's wings. "I am Captain Taela. And you are..."
"Uh, Inskipp milady," I managed to stutter.
"So what can I do for you then?"
The man that had accompanied me onboard the ship stepped forward to answer the question. "We have a last minute customer who wants passage to the MalteeseIslands. I know that normally you reject these requests, but I decided that this was a special exception. He has given us a somewhat... generous offer."
"Exactly how much?" the Captain replied with an interested expression.
Trying to sound lazy I said, "Oh, just thirty gold pieces."
"You drive an easy bargain young Inskipp," the Captain said. "I'll see what I can do. When I've worked everything out, I'll let our boatswain Master Quintus here know where I've decided your sleeping quarters are to be. Then he'll take it from there."
Quintus nodded to me at the sign of his introduction and gave me a wink before handing over my precious bag of gold for the Captain to count. I decided not to wink back because I didn't want to be giving him any ideas. I was feeling quite insecure around this boatswain character and I knew that it wouldn't change until he had somehow proven his worth to me. Until then, I would keep my eye on him.
Taela took a quill from an ink well and offered it to me along with a piece of paper. "This is your contract. Sign here and here, then everything will be just fine. If you can't write, then a fingerprint will suffice."
I took up the quill and hesitated. It was that irritable feeling again. I stubbornly decided that it wasn't going to get the best of me, so I leaned forward and scratched in my name. There, it was done. I had bound my fate to that of the Narwhal's and there was no backing out.
"Now then, if you would excuse me," said Captain Taela with a fleeting smile as she whisked the contract from beneath my fingertips, "I have work to attend to. You may see yourselves out."
Quintus ushered me out of the small cabin and I soon found myself looking at a swarming ant's nest. The deck of the Narwhal was bustling lively with heavy activity and it was evident that the longship Narwhal was about to start her maiden voyage. A distant roar of thunder echoed across the darkening skies, marking the sign of an approaching storm — what an excellent way to start a voyage. The Narwhal was bobbing more heavily now and the wind speed was getting stronger.
"Set the sails!" a voice roared. The crew members hauled powerfully on the ropes, pulling the sails nice and taut. The sails snapped forward, causing the ship to shudder angrily from the sudden force of air against canvas.
I watched as the Narwhal slowly edged away from the coastal haven that I had once called home. I gave it a lovingly wave goodbye as my next adventure was about to begin and I was sure that I wouldn't be seeing it in awhile.
My attention was then drawn to an ape-like figure with long hairy arms. He was strutting about the prow of the Narwhal, screaming out orders to his pawns that were scurrying all over the place like frightened rats.
"That'll be the first mate that you're looking at," said Quintus into my ear as he noted my direction of gaze. "Goes by the name of Vander. Be weary of that one, he doesn't take things as kindly as me. But stay even further away from Captain Taela. That layer o' beauty hides some form of evil demon that dwells within. Just remember that you've been warned. Oh, and one more thing — don't ever talk about her anywhere onboard this ship. Not even the slightest whisper. She has some uncanny way of knowing. It's as if the wooden panels of this ship are alive and listening."
"That being true," I said, "then why can't she hear you right now? You just spoke of her."
"Oh I wouldn't worry at this moment. She's a lil' occupied with all them contracts. But let me tell you Skipp, that woman can sniff mutiny a league away."
I watched the first mate Vander awhile longer and observed on the deck what appeared to be a daily drama. One of the crew members was tying a knot for one of the sails and Vander had somehow conceived that it was faulty. The first-mate stormed up to the crew member and began screaming in his ears.
"What the hell is that yer brazen fool? Call that a knot? I'd call it a damn piece of straight rope!" Vander clipped the man over the head with a sturdy fist and the man was sent to the deck on all fours. "Get yer filthy mitts offa mah deck scumbag! I'll have yer flayed for that!"
Vander's boot heel crashed down on the back of the man's hand causing him to squeal in agony and beg for mercy. The first-mate bent low, continuing to grind the man's hand to the deck, thrusting all his weight onto the iron-tipped heel. "Make sure it don' happen again!" He then stormed off in a furious state to take the steersman's place at the wheel.
I watched the unfortunate man with pity as he caressed his mangled hand in his lap. The whole ordeal had sent a shiver up my spine. I muttered a little prayer to myself and thanked God that I wasn't a crewman. I was sure that I wouldn't have been able to cope under such strict conditions.
Quintus nudged me in the ribs. "That be the ship screw-up. We call 'im Flangers 'round here and I wouldn't go makin' friends with him if I were you. You'll just give yourself a bad name. It's a wonder that he hasn't been fed to the sharks already."
"Entertainment for the first-mate?" I suggested.
Quintus gave a hearty laugh and slapped painfully me on the back. "That'll probably be right. You're a live one matey and we don't get many of them too often."
A thought sprang into my mind and I wondered why I hadn't noticed it earlier. "What happened to that posh accent of yours?" I asked with both curiosity and confusion. "You're now sounding like the average seaman. What's going on?"
"Ah, yes liddle Inskipp. Got to play me part you see. I needed to give the crew the impression that wealthy and powerful folk were running the show. You got ta tell the men who's in charge, strike a lil' fear into their hearts. This voice be my true nature."
A man of many characters I thought. This led me further to believe that he was not to be trusted.
"Well I'll be goin' back to the kapitan now to see where the master has put you." Quintus swung his arm in a wide arc, "Feel free to have a look around Skipp, it's gonna be your home for the next month or two."
I decided that the boatswain was right so I went to have a scout around the ship. I moved down towards the stern where a large cabin door was waiting for me. I felt that it would be a good place to start looking around.
After I had descended a short flight of stairs, I came across a long corridor which ran all the way through the middle of the ship. There were doors to both my left and right and I estimated approximately five on each side. All of them were sleeping cabins and each contained at least six hammocks or bunks. It was certainly an odd layout for a ship.
As I strolled past the open doorways, I managed to snatch a few glances at the other passengers inside. Most held families with small children and others were occupied by lone travellers such as myself. I even managed to pass one door just as somebody hurled their sickness into a barrel, a reminder to my stomach that I hadn't found my sea legs yet and my time was going to come sooner or later. I was already starting to feel the queasiness from being below deck. It would be best to accustom myself to the stale and damp atmosphere that lingered down here. I would take it one step at a time by going up and down every so often so I could gradually grow used to it.
As I was climbing back up to fetch a breather, a young boy of about twelve years of age charged down from the opposite direction and collided headfirst into me. We both took a tumble down the stairs and I landed flat on my back with the boy sitting on top of me.
Blowing his long blonde hair from out of his face the boy said, "Hi, are you Inskipp?"
I shoved the young lad from my chest and dusted myself off, "That'll be me." I studied the little boy up and down. "You must be a cabin boy."
"Jules Tann, at your service, Sir!" The boy snapped a smart salute.
"Next time can you slow down a little?" I said with contempt, "You could've broken my neck!" The kid seemed like he was going to be an annoying little prick on this voyage.
"Your neck is not top priority, Sir! My message from the Captain is! She wants ya in her cabin immediately."
Hmmm, a smart arse as well. "I'm on my way then."
"Glad to hear it Skipp! Be seeing you then!"
Yeah, I'll be seeing you chained to the bottom of the ocean.
After climbing onto the deck, I staggered over to the Captain's cabin where first-mate Vander was waiting for me.
"Name?" he asked in a gruff voice.
The first-mate nodded, "Enter."
The door opened with a long creak and I stepped inside. Captain Taela was seated with the papers in her hands and Quintus was standing like a totem next to her. I could tell that something was worrying the boatswain but it he didn't want to show it. There was a slight trickle of sweat sliding down the side of his forehead.
"You called Captain?" I said.
"Well, well, Master Inskipp, I'm proud to announce that I've found a place for you on this ship."
"And where might that me?" I replied casually.
The boatswain glared at me darkly. "Don't speak out of line when in the presence of the Captain, Inskipp. Show some respect or you'll be sorry."
A sense of fear was slowly building up in my gut. I wasn't doing well for my first thirty minutes onboard the Narwhal. I made a note to tread more carefully in the future.
Taela cleared her throat and started from where she had left off. "Tell me, Master Inskipp, how do you fare in the art of swordplay?"
What an odd question. "Oh, I'm fairly good."
The boatswain pulled a sabre from off the wall and tossed it to me. I managed to catch it by the hilt. "Prepare yourself," said Quintus.
I frowned, "For what?"
Captain Taela suddenly leapt from her chair and threw herself over the desk. A menacing shrill sang in the air as a sword was unsheathed from nowhere and was swung vertically at me. Life-saving reflexes ordered my sabre to block the blow along with the several others which soon followed afterwards. I flicked the Captain's sword out of the way with a neat little parry and pressed the tip of my blade against her neck.
"Satisfied?" I said.
Quintus was staring at me opened mouthed with amazement.
Captain Taela smiled, "You have much talent Master Inskipp, but I fear that you are still no match for the likes of me."
What happened next was purely impossible, but it happened anyway. My sabre somehow flicked itself from out of my hand and the Captain's blade sang its death song. Her sword whistled through the air, only to pause a centimetre from my neck.
I laughed with surprise. "That was some move!"
Taela tossed her sword back to the boatswain who was shaking his head in disbelief. "Your skill with a blade is noteworthy little Inskipp. I may have use for you." She picked up one of her papers and handed it to me with a smile. "You'll be sleeping in cabin three. Have a nice trip."
I exited the Captain's cabin only to be greeted by the sound of wild applause.