Captain Blaz stood at the window in his ship’s cabin, feverishly searching the dark ocean with eyes as pale blue as sea glass. It won’t be long now, sister. I promise you. A knock came at the door. He grunted. The cabin door swung open, but he did not bother turning to greet his visitor.
An uneven gait scuffed across the wooden boards. It must be Perkin, then. Perkin, the first mate, had sustained an injury to his leg five years before. He hadn’t walked the same way since. However, his limp never seemed to slow him down in the heat of battle.
“The men are anxious, Capt’n,” Perkin said by way of greeting. “We haven’t seen any action for weeks. We haven’t any fresh food either.”
The Captain wet his lips, feeling the rough scratch of dry skin against his tongue. “Can’t be helped. All cargo ships were delayed in port because of that rouge hurricane.”
Perkin scoffed. “What do we tell the crew, then? I’ve already broken up a few fights between the powder monkeys.”
The Captain ran a hand over the red whiskers sprouting from his chin, as if deep in thought. It was all for show. He knew the crew would be restless, and that Perkin would come to him. He had insured it. “We’ll propose a hunt,” he said at last. “Stop by one of these islands and go after the wild boars there.”
He could practically hear Perkin’s lips peel back into a ravenous smile. He had always had a strong bloodlust. “Aye, Capt’n. Should I gather the crew?”
The Captain nodded, eyes still searching the sea.
Perkin retreated and the door swung shut.
Not two minutes later the door slammed open, hitting against the cabin wall. There was only one crew member aboard the Bloody Hook that would dare enter his cabin without knocking. Captain Blaz turned to face his Quartermaster.
Azalea stood before his desk. Her dark eyes narrowed, and her muscled arms crossed over her chest.
“A hunt, Blaz?”
“Captain,” he corrected out of habit.
“We don’t need another hunt, Blaz. And you know it. We are dangerously low on gold. Our supplies are low, too.”
“Aye. And we’re just going hunting. We should be out with the other crews at Cape Point getting ready for the first cargo ships of the season,” said Azalea.
Captain Blaz pulled out his chair and sat down, taking the time to prop his feet up on the weathered desktop. “You know our crew and ship are not equipped enough to fight the cargo ships and the more established pirate crews.”
“You’ve never even given us the chance to-”
Finally, the Captain couldn’t hide his joy any longer. A smile breached the indifferent mask on his features. Azalea stopped mid sentence.
“What in the seven seas is wrong with you?”
He set his feet on the floor and leaned forward across his desk. His eyes sparkled like glass in the sun.
“Azalea, I’ve found it.”
“Your common sense? It’s about time,” Azalea snipped, but already her shoulders slouched as she guessed the truth.
“No. The island. The island where Capt’n Gerik stores his treasure.”
Azalea’s long, dark braid fell over her shoulder as she allowed her crossed arms to drop to the desktop. Her eyes wouldn’t meet his. “Blaz, you claim this treasure exists, but you have no proof. Even after five years of searching. The crew will vote you down if you propose another hunt. Worse, they might question your sanity if you keep chasing after treasure that may not exist.”
“It exists. And don’t worry yourself, the crew will be out hunting boar. I will be looking for the treasure. And no one else needs to know.”
“Capt’n Blaz. Now, Capt’n Gerik and his men won’t be back for at least a week. I will have plenty of time to search the island cave.”
Azalea didn’t answer.
He sat back and drummed his fingers across the desktop. “How ‘bout I cut you a deal?”
Azalea pursed her lips, but met his gaze.
“If you help me search, this will be the last island, whether or not we find the treasure. I promise.”
She searched his pale eyes. He was a murderer, a thief, and a liar, but he always kept his promises.
“You must be very confident in this island,” Azalea said at last.
He dipped his head in acquiescence.
“Fine. I’ll take your deal. But we still have to put our heading to a vote.”
Captain Blaz nodded towards the cabin door. “Crew should be gathered by now.”
Azalea turned and marched out, followed closely by the Captain. When he emerged from his cabin, most of his crew members were already gathered on the main deck.
Nyasia, their boatswain, was replacing a portion of rotting rope. Captian Blaz met Perkin’s gaze, then nodded towards Nyasia. Perkin nodded back. He came up beside her and threw a friendly arm over her shoulder.
“Worry ‘bout that later, lass. You’re workin’ too hard,” he said.
Nyasia dropped the ropes. “I’m working a lot harder than you, that’s for sure,” she said, laughing. The two joined the rest of the crew, next to the powder monkeys.
The powder monkeys clumped together against the railing. There were four of them: Jorn, Cecil, Keelan, and Loman. All were under the age of fifteen. They were taking turns looking through an old spyglass. Perkin grabbed it out of Loman’s hands and used it to playfully smack him on the shoulder.
“Pay attention, lads, or I’ll have you pickin’ barnacles off the side of the ship with toothpicks.”
Only Loman looked sheepish, the rest of the boys grinned and turned their attention back to the Captain.
With all eyes locked on him Captain Blaz cleared his throat, and then asked his crew if they wanted to go on a hunt.
Four hours later, the crew of the Bloody Hook set foot on Prather island.
The only pirate who stayed back from the hunt was Leeba, their pilot.
“Why would I want to chase a pig around when I could have a few hours free of you lot?” she asked while restringing her eyepatch.
Vito, their master gunner, walked over to her as the others were preparing to leave. “That makes me think of a joke I heard. Leeba, what do you get when you cross the pilot of a pirate ship with a pig?”
“I don’t think I want to know,” she said, but set her eyepatch aside a moment later.
Vito grinned. “Nothing. There’s just some filth even a pig won’t roll around in.” Vito laughed uproariously as Leeba crossed her arms. She attempted to glare at him, but it wasn’t hard to miss the slight curl of her smile. Perkin came over and threw an arm around Vito’s shoulders.
“At least give the man points for creativity!” said Perkin.
“Oh, I’ll give’ em a point,” said Leeba with mock irritation. She pulled her sword from its sheath and leveled it at the two men. They quickly retreated off the ship and into the treeline; followed by a large group of the laughing crew members.
Captain Blaz and Azalea followed at the back of the group. But not before Captain Blaz said, “Don’t pay them any attention, Leeba. I’m sure all the pigs think you’re gorgeous.”
Leeba just winked and retrieved her eyepatch.
As the group of pirates walked through the forest Azalea said, “Perkin’s been really pushing his leadership on us lately.”
The Captain nodded. “He’s testing the waters―seeing how far I’ll let him go.”
“Not far. He’ll get his fun today and distract the crew for us in the meantime. I’ll call him to my cabin tonight and set him straight.”
“You’d better,” said Azalea. “He wants power and he’s good with the crew. If he pushes too far he’ll be voted in as captain and you’ll be discarded like…”
“Like a moldy sock?” The Captain prompted.
Azalea scowled. “Your expressions are awful.”
Captain Blaz chuckled. “I won’t be a moldy sock-”
“Please stop,” said Azalea.
“I know how to handle Perkin. Why do you think I made him first mate? He gets some power and keeps everyone in line for us.”
“Smart, but I still don’t like it,” she said.
“Aye, I don’t like it neither.”
Up ahead, there was a commotion as Idania found fresh boar tracks. Perkin ran to her side and gave her a slap on the back with praise, then he lead the group deeper into the trees.
“I think it’s time we slip away,” said Azalea.
Captain Blaz reached into his coat and brought out a creased map. He studied it a moment, then nodded off to their right. The two pirates broke off from the rest of the group and disappeared into the foliage.
They walked for twenty minutes through the thick underbrush.
“If this was Gerik’s island don’t you think he’d have a few people here to guard it?” Azalea ducked under another low hanging branch.
Captain Blaz waved his hand distractedly. “No, no. He’s too arrogant. He doesn’t think anyone would dare steal his treasure.”
Azalea let out a sigh through her nose, but continued to follow him down the steep trail. It was only when they were standing in front of the cave mouth that the ground began to even out. As Azalea took a moment to light a torch, Captain Blaz stepped closer to the cave entrance. He eyed the darkness, and was reminded of a dark, scum filled alley he’d stood in years ago. The memories came fast, and in pieces: an overheard conversation, murderous eyes, his sister’s hand being ripped from his own, a blinding pain in his side, her tormented scream, her agate necklace being ripped from around her neck. He blinked the memories away.
“Ready?” Azalea asked, offering him the torch.
He took it, then the two stepped into the cave’s dim interior.
The cave’s weathered floor was slick with moisture and sloped subtly downward into darkness. They walked for several long minutes without talking.
“Why do you think the treasure will be in a cave anyways?” Azalea asked, breaking the silence.
“I don’t think, I know.”
Azalea rolled her eyes in the near darkness. “How do you know then?”
“Because I heard him say it,” said the Captain, softly. Azalea looked at him in surprise then opened her mouth to speak, but stopped when they turned the corner. The ceiling abruptly dipped down, allowing only a few feet’s space between it and the floor.
“Are there any other caves?” Azalea asked slowly.
Captain Blaz shook his head quickly “No. No, not out of the water.” He handed the torch off to Azalea.
He dropped down onto his hands and knees and looked down into the hole. It was too dark to make anything out clearly. He stuck his arm inside and felt around the wet walls―looking for a secret latch or lever. He found none.
“It has to be here. I know it is. I know it is,” said Captain Blaz.
Azalea looked on sadly. “Blaz, come on. Let’s go back.”
“No! I can’t! It has to be here.” He knocked against the cave walls, searching for a hollow space.
“No, Azalea. I can’t stop. I have to find his treasure. I have to.”
Azalea threw up her hands, almost hitting the torch on the wet ceiling. “Why?” she demanded. “I’m so tired of this shit. Why do you have to?”
He closed his mouth and set his jaw, but did not cease his desperate search. Azalea scoffed in disbelief.
“Alright, idiot. Have fun in the dark with your treasure.” Azalea stomped back the way they had come, taking the torch with her. The Captain rose to his feet and hurried after.
She picked up her speed. He hurried to keep up. They emerged into the sunlight on the path. Azalea flung the torch off to her left, where a nearby stream extinguished it. Then she turned to face him.
“I’ll ask again. Why? And you’d better give me a damned good answer.”
Captain Blaz let out a grunt of frustration. “I overheard him say it.”
“Where? When? During a rum-drunk dream? Why does it matter?”
“No! He said his treasure was in a cave on a small island. I’ve paid off some people to keep a lookout for where and when Captain Gerik’s ships go. They come around this area a lot. Specifically this island.” The Captain gave a wide sweeping gesture to their surroundings, then awkwardly dropped his hands to his sides. Azalea placed her hands on her hips.
“You still haven’t answered why, Blaz. I’m your friend, not just your quartermaster. If you would just let me in, I could help you.”
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. It was sticky with sweat and humidity. “Capt’n Gerik took my sister’s agate necklace, right after he killed her.”
Azalea’s fierce expression softened. “So you think Gerik has your sister’s necklace stashed with the rest of his gold?”
“Okay,” said Azalea. “Okay, we’ll-”
Both pirates reached for their weapons as they turned towards the source of the shouting. Jorn, one of the powder monkeys, came crashing through the brush. He slid to an abrupt stop before the duo, gasping for air.
“You definitely won’t be catching any boars that way, boy,” said Captain Blaz, deadpan.
Jorn’s already flushed face turned a brighter shade of red. “No its-its mermaids, Capt’n. In a cove on the other side of the island.”
Azalea and the Captain’s faces twisted in disgust. Mermaids were worse than sharks when it came to eating the dead bodies of pirates that fell into the sea. They also had a nasty habit of swiping anything shiny and taking it for themselves.
“And why do we care about those bone-suckers?” Azalea demanded.
“They-they-they have a treasure chest with them. A large one. The rest of the crew is watching them. I was-was sent to find you.”
“Take us there,” the Captain ordered.
Jorn grinned foolishly and took off crashing back the way he had come. Captain Blaz and Azalea weren’t far behind. When the three pirates reached the cove on the other side of the island, they were covered in sweat and small scratches from the greenery.
The rest of the crew crouched not far off, all gazing towards where a pod of merfolk swum.
“How many are there?” Captain Blaz asked.
“Twenty, maybe? Hard to tell with all the splashin’,” answered Perkin.
The merfolk were in a semicircle in the shallows of the cove. The chest sat in the middle of the group, six feet or so under the water’s surface. Further out, a dusky purple tail thrashed out of the water as two merfolk play-wrestled. The other merfolk watched and excitedly chattered, enraptured, as the wrestlers’ torsos rose out of the water, webbed hands locked on the others’ shoulders. One snarled, revealing thin sharp teeth.
High pitched jarring noises filled the air. Many among the crew winced.
The pirates watched for a moment longer as the merman who had snarled was dunked into the water. A delighted noise, sounding eerily like laughter, emanated from the gathered crowd.
“What do we do, Capt’n?” Perkin asked.
Captain Blaz set his jaw and thought for a moment. It was true pirates voted on the majority of their collective actions, but when it came to battle the decisions were all his.
“I say we blow them out of the water,” declared Vito, their master gunner. Tavish, Vito’s twin brother, nodded his support.
The Captain sighed inwardly. The decision was his, but his crew still liked to voice their opinions.
“Don’t be stupid,” said Azalea. “All your cannons would create is chaos in the water. The bonesuckers would take the chest and leave before we could do anything.”
“How do we even know they’d take the chest with them?” challenged Vito. “It could just be a chest. Merfolk like treasure, not the ugly wooden thing that holds it.”
Azalea rolled her eyes and gestured back towards the water. Captain Blaz and the rest of the crew turned in time to see a mermaid open the lid of the chest. The ripples in the water’s surface and the mermaids fan of long grey-blue hair prevented anyone from seeing inside. Regardless, it was obvious there was something in there the mermaid wanted.
“We’re not going to fire our cannons at them,” said Captain Blaz to Vito. “But we are going to fire something else.” He turned his gaze to Tavish, who lifted his eyebrow questioningly.
Twenty minutes later Captain Blaz, Perkin, Vito, and Tavish crouched behind a bush thirty feet away from the edge of the water.
The Captain let his hand rest on the hilt of his cutlass as he watched the merfolk galavanting around the chest. The mermaid from before swam over to the chest and was about to lift the lid, when she froze. As did everyone else. They held still as death, and it looked very unnatural in the ever shifting waters.
All of the merfolk turned as one to gaze at the Bloody Hook as it came into view.
The ship slowly came to a stop at the mouth of the cove. Captain Blaz heard the distant shouted order from Azalea, and then a few buckets of chum were hefted over the sides.
For a few moments nothing happened, then a merman broke off from the group. He swam over towards the chum, and was gone for several minutes.
Sweat dampened the back of Captain Blaz’s shirt, and his legs began to cramp from squatting for so long.
“What do we do if they don’t go after the bait?” asked Tavish.
“We’ll distract’em while you use that amazing machine of yours,” said Perkin. He gave Tavish a bold smile.
Captain Blaz shook his head. “Don’t worry yourself, none. The merman who went ahead is checking the water for danger. See how attentive the others are?” He gestured towards the rest of the pod. “They’re waiting for the scout’s signal.” As if to prove his point, a screech came from close to the Bloody Hook. The majority of the pod quickly swam towards the chum filled waters. However, two lingered behind with the chest.
Captain Blaz drew his cutlass. “And now it’s time to use your brilliant invention, Tavish.”
Tavish grinned. “Yes sir, you’re the Captain.”
Captain Blaz sent a pointed look towards Perkin. Perkin’s smile grew strained for a moment.
“Of course, you’re the Captain,” he said. He hefted his handheld harpoon launcher over his shoulder. He had engineered it during his free time and the pirates had since used it as a means to board enemy ships.
Now, they had a different use in mind.
“Ready your ears,” Tavish said. The harpoon shot from the launcher with a boom and sailed through the air. A rope tied to the end of the harpoon stretched between it and Tavish’s machine. By the time the harpoon had sunk into the side of the chest, Captain Blaz was already running towards the water. Perkin and Vito were not far behind.
The two merfolk shrieked in surprise. Somewhere behind the Captain, Tavish pressed the button that caused the rope to retract. The chest was quickly pulled towards the edge of the water. It came within ten feet of the shore before the mermaid was able to lash out and bite through the rope. The merman seized the chest, and the two pivoted back towards the ocean, but the pirates were already there.
Captain Blaz tried to force the mermaid to back away with his cutlass, but she wouldn’t back down. She brought up her tail and attempted to knock him off his feet. The Captain drove his cutlass through the mermaid’s torso. Blood plumbed in great, dark clouds through the water.
The mermaid screeched in pain and surprise. Captain Blaz looked up to see the other merfolk turning to swim back towards them.
“They’re coming back!” he yelled.
Vito quickly jabbed his boarding pike at the merman, forcing him to back away a few strokes. Perkin grabbed the chest and tried to drag it to shore, but the chest was heavy and it slowed him down. The merman attempted to dart around Vito to reach Perkin, but Vito lunged and drove his pike into the merman’s tail. Captain Blaz rushed to his side.
“I can handle this bonesucker. Help Perkin,” Vito said as he pulled his pike free.
Perkin was at the very edge of the water when the Captain reached him. Together they were able to drag the chest the rest of the way ashore. Tavish reached the two pirates’ sides right as Vito screamed. They all turned in time to see Vito kick off a young silver-haired mermaid that had bitten his leg. She was flung back into the group of merfolk that had surrounded him. A wave crashed into Vito as he kicked, causing him to lose his balance.
The first of the merfolk converged.
“Stay away from me, you overgrown bowfin!” Vito kicked out at the merman nearest him while raking through the blood clouded water. He’d dropped his boarding pike.
“Brother!” Tavish screamed. He tried to run into the surf, but Captain Blaz restrained
“Don’t be stupid!” said Captain Blaz. “You go in there and I’ll lose two pirates.”
As the first of the merfolk tore into him, Vito screamed, but it was cut off as he was dragged from the shallows out to deeper water. Tavish threw the Captain off of him and turned away while the water grew increasingly red.
“That’s it? We’re just going to let those beasts get away with killing our own?” demanded Perkin.
Tavish closed his eyes.
“We can’t do anything, Perkin.” said Captain Blaz with resolve.
“We have to do something. It’s blood for blood. Brother for brother. We need to show these bonesuckers what honor means,” Perkin protested. “Because whatever is in this chest sure as hell doesn’t make up for our loss.”
Perkin paced over to Tavish and grabbed his arm roughly. “Your brother would avenge you,” he said in a low voice.
Tavish’s face hardened.
“Your brother wouldn’t want you to die alongside him,” countered Captain Blaz as he yanked Perkin off of Tavish.
“I won’t,” said Tavish. He marched up the beach and grabbed his harpoon launcher. He came back and ripped the harpoon out of the side of the chest and stuck it in his machine.
Perkin smiled fervidly and opened his mouth to shout more encouragement, but saw Captain Blaz narrow his eyes at him. He wisely closed his mouth.
Tavish pointed the harpoon towards the water. He fired. The harpoon pierced the mass of feeding merfolk. A merman screeched and the rest of the pod retreated.
A prone merman body was left behind. From where they were standing, Captain Blaz could see the end of Tavish’s harpoon sticking out of its chest.
“Are you satisfied?” Captain Blaz asked, not unkindly.
“No. I was aiming for the mermaid who bit him,” said Tavish icily. He hoisted his harpoon launcher over his shoulder and grabbed the rusted handle on the side of the chest.
“Well? Are we going to haul this thing back to the ship?” Tavish demanded.
Captain Blaz sighed, and took his place on the other side of the chest. Perkin stayed silent, but moved to support the middle.
Together, the Captain, Perkin, and Vito carried the chest back to the Bloody Hook. When they arrived, the rest of the crew was waiting for them. They had seen what had become of Vito, and all were mournful in their own ways: Loman was openly crying, Leeba gazed with dry eyes out to sea, and the gunners stood together on the quarterdeck. They didn’t say anything—it was enough just to be close to one another.
Captain Blaz set the chest on the main deck and stepped to the side. He thought back to all the battles he had fought alongside Vito. How he had always been ready to face a problem head on, whether that be a nasty storm or an enemy ship. He’d always been quick with a crude joke, and half the time you cringed and half the time you couldn’t stop laughing.
After a few moments of silence, the Captain cleared his throat. “Vito fought till the very last moment. He was daring and foolhardy and we all loved him for it. He died getting us this chest I believe now is the time to open it up.”
Captain Blaz made eye contact with Tavish and jerked his head towards the chest. Tavish nodded and stepped forwards. He grabbed onto the edge of the lid, and swung it open. A shocked silence permeated the crew.
“What in the seven seas is that?” Azalea demanded.
Everyone began to talk at once.
Captain Blaz gazed down at the chest in disbelief. Inside the chest there weren’t any strings of pearls, salt damaged copper coins, sparkling gold, jewels loose or attached to tarnished jewelry. No. Inside the water damaged chest there floated a baby mermaid.
“Calm your arses! Captain, what do you want to do?” asked Perkin.
“Drink. Heavily,” he said.
“I mean with the child…” said Perkin.
“Kill it,” snapped Tavish. “We can’t sell it.”
“Give me a moment,” said Captain Blaz. Vito had died for nothing. No, worse―a mermaid child. A bonesucker. Perkin had been right, the chest hadn’t been worth Vito’s life at all. He thought for a few moments. What can we do with it?
“Kill it! Or it will bring us bad luck!” shouted Cecil, one of the powder monkeys. Leeba smacked him upside the head.
“That’s just a bunch of superstition, you idiot,” she said.
“Cecil’s reasons are superstitious, but he’s got the right idea. We need to either kill it or throw it overboard and let nature take its course,” said Nyasia, their boatswain.
“It’s just a baby!” protested Azalea.
“A baby that could bring on the full wrath of a pod of merfolk. Those bonesuckers might rip the ship apart!” said Tavish.
“No one’s ever had their ship ripped apart by merfolk before,” said Perkin.
“No one’s ever stolen a bonesucker child either. They’re dangerous! Vito died because of them,” said Tavish. He angrily wiped away a few tears that had spilled down his face.
“Quiet! We’ll-” said Captain Blaz. Then stopped as the baby mermaid gurgled contentedly. The Captain had been about to say they would return the child to the shallows on the beach and hope the merfolk returned for it. But at the very human sound that came from the child, he was plunged back into a day during his boyhood. His mother was out working the street corners, leaving him to care for his baby sister. She’d begun to cry because she was hungry. Without really knowing what he was doing, Blaz picked her up and bounced her. After a few moments, her crying became a happy gurgle. She turned to look up at him with smiling, gray-blue eyes. It was then that Blaz promised her he would always be there to protect her.
The rest of the crew had stopped too, and all gazed at the baby mermaid with mixed emotions evident on their face.
“Why don’t we just…sell her?” asked Loman. Everyone turned to him and he flinched. Jorn put a supportive hand on his shoulder.
“Sell her?” echoed Karmel, one of the gunners.
“Well, carnivals are always looking for weird things to show off. Rich folks keep tigers and stuff as pets, so why not mermaids? I mean, no one’s taken a mermaid before, right?” said Loman.
“That’s ridiculous! No one would want to care for a baby. She’d have to stay with us till she was grown. Where would we even keep her till then? A rum barrel?” Nyasia protested.
“What if she became our weapon?” the Captain asked. The crew quieted.
“How do you mean?” Azalea asked.
“Think of it, we could attack from our ship and from the water,” said the Captain.
“You’re not seriously suggesting we keep her!” said Tavish.
He met the eyes of his crew. Some nodded in affirmation, others still looked lost.
Perkin said, “She’d be a hidden weapon, an undertow. Think of it lads! They’d be fighting us on deck, but underneath a mermaid would be putting a hole in their ship with one of Tavish’s machines!” He began to walk around the deck, gesticulating feverishly. “Imagine looking over the side of your ship to see a bonesucker smiling up at you! And then looking up to see the crew, our crew, who had tamed one of the monsters from the deep. Imagine their fear. I say, we keep her!” Most of the crew was smiling now. Perkin briefly looked at the Captain for approval. The Captain dipped his head slightly. Perkin had been forgiven.
“All in favor, say aye,” said Captain Blaz.
A chorus of ayes rung out across the Bloody Hook.
“All opposed?” Only Tavish, Nyasia, and Cecil still opposed the decision.
“She stays,” said the Captain.
He gazed down at the water leaking from the rotten chest, then up to where the sun had sunk low in the sky.
“Get the child a new chest. This one is so water bloated it looks like a sea cucumber. The rest of you, take it easy. We’ll set sail in the morning.”
“Aye, Captain,” said the crew in unison. Anise, their carpenter, disappeared below decks with Jorn. Azalea came to stand by Captain Blaz as the other crew members drifted to different corners of the ship.
“Where do we go from here?” he asked.
“We’ll worry about that in the morning,” Azalea replied. “By the way, I was wondering what her name was?”
“Your sister’s,” she said.
He quirked his lips. “Taffy,” he said.
Azalea blinked in surprise. “Like…salt water Taffy?”
Captain Blaz shrugged. “When my mother was pregnant with her it was the only thing she could eat without throwing up.”
Azalea threw back her head and laughed. The Captain just grinned.
Anise and Jorn emerged a few minutes later with a trunk.
“It used to hold the extra nets, but I daresay this child could make better use of it,” said Anise.
“Where did you put the nets?” Azalea inquired.
“In-in-in,” Jorn clenched his fists, “In Vito’s bed.”
The four pirates inclined their heads in silent mourning.
The trunk was larger than its predecessor and more solidly built. While they were gone, Leeba had collected fresh ocean water, which was dumped into the new trunk.
The pirates watched as Captain Blaz bent to pick up the babe. He was afraid it would begin to holler, but it stayed silent in his arms. The Captain took a moment to watch her. She had large, dark, depthless eyes. Small, finned ears peeked from beneath strands of grey-blue hair. Her webbed hands reached out clumsily to clutch his nose.
He laughed and gently moved her hand away, then navigated her into the new trunk.
“Anise, do you want to keep this chest?” Azalea asked, kicking it.
The Captain looked up in time to see Anise rear back in offense. “This piece of junk? No! Toss it over the side.”
Azalea and Jorn lifted the chest up and balanced it on the railing. Jorn was about to push the chest into the water, but Azalea stopped him with a hand across his chest.
“Blaz! You need to take a look at this,” Azalea said.
“Capt’n,” he reminded as he strolled to the railing. He peered over the side of the ship, and then his mouth dropped open. “I don’t believe it,” he murmured.
The rest of the crew stopped what they were doing and quickly joined the trio at the railing, elbowing each other to get a look.
There, below the waters, lay an underwater sea cave. The mouth of it was just thirty feet or so below the surface. Inside, the pirates could see the glint of treasure.
“It’s the treasure isn’t it? Gerik’s treasure?” asked Azalea.
A slow grin crept across Captain Blaz’s face. “That pirate is a genius. Azalea! He left his treasure there because he knew the merfolk would be attracted to it! They guarded it like it was their own stash of gold and probably added to it too! Any bit of treasure they found on the ocean floor went in there.”
The crew members began to cheer. The Captain tore his eyes away from the water and searched out Tavish. He stood off to the side with eyes still as red as the setting sun on the sea from crying.
“We’ve found this treasure because of you brother’s sacrifice,” Captain Blaz said over the din.
“We would have found it anyways,” snapped Tavish. He turned and went belowdecks. Captain Blaz looked on sadly. He knew he needed some time to work through his grief.
Azalea jumped onto of the ship’s railing, and held up her hand for silence.
“Let’s get this treasure out of the water! Anise, liberate the netting from Vito’s bed! Karmel, assist her!” As Azalea continued barking orders, the Captain walked back over to the trunk in a bit of a daze. He’d done it. He’d found the treasure. With it, he could become one of the most powerful pirates in the seas. Not only that, he would be taking a significant amount of power away from Captain Gerik. He could finally find his sister’s necklace. He could finally watch Gerik’s empire crumble. I did it, Taffy. It took me years, but I’ve avenged you. You can rest easy now.
An easy smile came to his face, then slowly fell. He hadn’t been able to protect his sister when they were just street kids, and once his victory over Gerik was secured many powerful people would be after him. He will have to be careful and protect his crew.
I suppose that includes you too, now. The Captain crouched down by the trunk and ran his hand across the surface of the water. The baby mermaid reached up and grabbed onto his thumb. She gurgled happily. He smiled fondly at the babe before hearing the dragging scuff of a boot on wood.
“You dead set on keepin’ her, Capt’n?” Perkin asked.
“You sure it won’t be dangerous? She looks cute and all now that she’s a babe, but what happens when she’s older? We may not be able to raise her right. Merfolk are animals, after all. They’re not like us.”
The Captain frowned. He could raise her to be an excellent pirate, he was sure of it. But if she ever turned on them it would be disastrous.
“She must grow up trusting us. We must become family to her, and to do that, she must never know how we got her.”
“You mean how we killed her parents?” Perkin said sarcastically.
Captain Blaz blinked in surprise. Perkin is right. The two merfolk who stayed behind with the chest must have been her parents. “Aye.”
“Speakin’ of her, what should her name be. Can’t keep callin’ her babe or bonesucker.”
Captain Blaz looked out at the horizon, where a sky as pale blue as seaglass met the shifting gray-blue sea.
“Tasi,” he said at last.
Perkin scoffed lightheartedly. “Fittin’, I suppose.”
As the first haul of glittering treasure was dropped onto the deck, Captain Blaz looked back down at the mermaid.
“Tasi,” he whispered.