Never stop. One always stops as soon as something is about to happen.
“What’s that?” Ferdia cried, pointing at something in the distance.
Squeaks paused in his rowing to glance at the bit of bright red floating amongst the waves. “Too far away to tell,” he ventured.
Ferdia stood, shielding her eyes from the sun as she squinted out at the snatch of color bobbing between the mild ocean swells. “Wish we still had those binoculars,” she muttered.
“*I* wish we had a compass,” Squeaks replied, falling back into the rhythm of rowing in an attempt to keep their heading, uncertain as it was. Without an emergency transponder, their best chance for survival was in reaching the Silver’s wreckage or the shipping lanes to the east, and the mouse didn’t like the odds of either. The Arellian navy might have been focused primarily on ships of air and space instead of those of the sea, but just as no local navy seaman was granted flight training without first proving himself on sea trials, no Arellian cadet set foot in a training starcruiser before mastering the ships of their ancestors. Fluid dynamics didn’t change too much across mediums, after all, and an oceangoing vessel was in many ways safer than a spacefaring one. But their current situation worried him, and the lack of a compass certainly wasn’t helping any. “We could be going in circles for all we know.”
“Don’t be silly,” Ferdia snorted. Ever the optimist, the bluebird had yet to consider the full implications of their predicament. To her, this was simply an inconvenience; something keeping her from her brother and the danger he might be in. The idea that they might drift away from the coastline and shipping channels and into open ocean, never to be seen again, was so incredibly inconceivable her mind would’ve rejected it had it occurred to her at all. In fact, she seemed to be treating the whole thing as a survivalist training exercise. “It’s past noon, and we’re keeping the sun at our backs – well, when it’s not hidden behind a patch of clouds, at any rate - we should be going east.” She sighed, regarding the skies for a moment before turning her attention back to the object among the waves. “It’ll be easier once the stars are out.”
“In the meantime, I want to know what that red thing is.”
“A waste of time and energy.”
“I don’t think so. I mean, it’s too bright for driftwood, too small for a buoy, and too buoyant to have been out here long. It’s probably something from Bobetta’s yacht. And the only thing I can think of from the yacht that would fit that description is a life preserver.”
Squeaks arched an eyebrow at her. “You want to salvage a life preserver? We’re in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. If it sinks, we’ll die of exposure or hypothermia or worse long before anyone finds us, life preservers or no.”
“You’re forgetting something,” she smiled, wagging a finger at him, “This is *Bobetta* we’re talking about. She stocked that yacht with deluxe, super-expensive everything. I’ll bet that life preserver has everything from sunblock to satellite phones packed into it. And if it’s got all that, I figure there might be survival gear hidden in there too. Rope cutters…signal flares…a compass…”
That earned a smirk from her partner. All right, optimism it was. Perhaps there would be something of use in the floating debris. “This would go faster if you’d help with the rowing, you know.”
“Now your talkin’!” With a grin and a laugh, she sat down again, taking up the second set of oars. This was a longboat, after all, and thus designed for multiple rowers. Which, she supposed, might be quite useful in helping them reach their destination, had they any particular destination in mind. Unsure of their exact location, they’d been rowing in a vaguely eastward direction on and off for hours, but had yet to catch sight of anything – no ships, planes, or signs of land on the horizon. This bit of floating junk was the first thing they’d come across, and if it was from the yacht, it at least meant they were getting somewhere. The Coast Guard would come looking for them when the Silver Princess failed to return in a day or so, and she wanted to be as close to the downed yacht’s radio transmitter as possible.
They rowed steadily towards the floating object, gaining on it slowly. They were cutting across the surface current, and therefore it took them a few minutes and quite a bit of effort, but they finally drew close enough to see what it was, and after a bit more rowing, they were able to snag it with an oar and drag it aboard.
Ferdia rummaged through the fiery-hued preserver’s many pockets. “Let’s see…. canteen of drinking water….vacuum sealed food packets….pack of gum…aspirin…ah! Here we go! A knife, some flares, and a compass.” She frowned. “No satellite phone or radio transmitter, though. Kinda disappointing.”
“The compass is good, at least,” Squeaks volunteered, picking it up and taking a reading, “we might not know where the yacht went down, but we do know that there’s several thousand miles of coastline to the east, and now we’ll be able to keep an accurate heading.”
“Great. Eastward-ho!” Ferdia cheered, packing the jacket with their meager pirate-supplied rations and resuming her post at the oars. “Say, Squeaks, how far out are we, you figure?”
The mouse shook his head. “No idea. We were off-course before Gracie took the helm, and between rushing to meet Iiwi and running from the pirates – not to mention however long we were out on their ship – I lost track of which direction we were sailing.” He thought over the day’s events as they rowed in silence for a few minutes, then turned to face his partner. “To be honest, though – given the ocean’s currents, the wind, and the fact that we’re going to slow down as we get tired – ”
“You’re not going gloom and doom on me, are you?” she frowned.
Squeaks gave her a small smile. “It’s a losing battle. We need to get as far east as possible, and preferably as close to the yacht as we can, before we tire out – because once we do, we’ll be fighting just to stay in place.”
Ferdia winced. “And here I thought this was supposed to be a vacation.”
“Damn!” Ivan swore, tossing the ruined dagger aside, “That’s three blades this lock has snapped. Three!” He gave the barred door a sharp kick, then slammed shoulder-first into the chained looped around the bars and secured by the lock, jarring things a bit and rattling the chains like a mournful ghost. The rusted lock shuddered, but both it and the bars held the chain fast.
“Maybe it’s broken, Sir,” his sign holder volunteered, pausing in his search of the brig, “Or rusted so tight you have to be as big as a gorilla to pry it open.”
“Well, picking it’s not working and it certainly doesn’t seem to have a key,” Lita mused, tossing aside the last of the sets of keys they’d found hanging on the far wall of the brig and wandering over to inspect the exit to the rest of the ship. “Nothing on any of these key rings even remotely fits it.”
“Even the one I lifted from the guy that threw us in here doesn’t work,” the sign holder grumbled.
“Figures,” Ivan muttered. “A bunch of criminals would use a lock that couldn’t be picked. Any luck with the door?”
Across the brig, Lita paused in her attempts to kick down the heavy, half-rotted wooden door standing between her and the hordes of pirates in need of butt-kicking outside. “Punks must’ve barricaded it with something.” She took a step back, then sprung forward to power-kick the door. It shuddered and even impacted a bit at the point of contact, but held fast. There was a faint sound of splintering wood, however, and it grew more pronounced as she repeated the kick at the same spot, jaw set determinedly. “I’ve almost *(kick!)* got it busted *(kick!)* off its hinges, *(kick!)* but unless we can *(kick!)* move it *(kick!)* and whatever’s piled in front of it, *(kick!)* we’ll still be stuck in here.”
Ivan swore, slamming his fist into his cell’s bars in frustration. He needed to know what was going on outside of the brig. The noise level had risen considerably for a time, and there had been a rather alarming amount of shrieking, screeching, shouts, and gunfire filtering down from the decks above – and then a few hours ago it had just suddenly…stopped. Filtered bits of conversation and muffled sobs still worked their way down from above, but that was all. It was…unsettling. Ivan was used to being in control of any given situation, and being shut up in a dimly-lit room deep within a ship while gods-knew-what transpired above was not something he was enjoying. And until he could jimmy open his cell’s lock, he was essentially stuck in the brig – a concept he liked even less, given that they had no idea just what had occurred above. Delusional or not, Bob might not be in control of the ship anymore. After all, it was anyone’s guess how long Beak could keep several dozen pirates under hypnotic control. He had to know what was going on out there.
But, like all men of power, he was smart enough to realize when want did not quite fit ability, and that what this particular situation currently called for was a hefty serving of delegation. With a frustrated sigh, he resolved to send his wards on their missions as soon as the brig’s door gave way – the sign holder to locate a firearm or crowbar or some other device that would facilitate the breach of this cell, and Lita to reconnoiter the top deck.
“So,” Ferdie ventured, cautiously picking at the food in front of him as the muffled sound of what he could only presume was Lita’s ongoing assault on the brig filtered up from the lower decks, “remind me again, where are we heading?”
“Back to de island, of course,” the cook laughed, heaping more half-heated and questionably edible vittles onto the bluebird’s cracked wooden plate. “Where else we be goin’? We been at sea fer weeks, mon. Need fresh wat’r. Fruit, too. We stay out here much longer, we start getting’ de scurvy. Eat now, mon. Yer all puny and setch. A wonder th’ wind don’ jus’ blow yer right overboard!”
“Er…right,” Ferdie managed, abandoning his attempts to break a chunk of bread off the rocklike hunk on his plate in favor of simply chomping on it. This proved to be a bad idea; had he any teeth, he would’ve worried about having cracked a few, as the black bread refused to crumble. Now he felt he understood the real reason why pirates carried knives – it had to be the only way to eat these bricks of bread! He resorted to pecking at the chunk until it was small enough to dip into the stein of cloudy water in front of him. He would gladly have drank ale or sour wine or whatever it was the pirates all seemed to guzzle whenever they had a spare moment, but evidently the cook felt his liver was too white to handle alcohol.
The heavyset cook continued chatting idly away, apparently unused to a visitor that stayed after receiving food. He talked of the islands, the “estupeed Spaneesh,” and how much more fun it was to pillage up and down the islands and neighboring seaboard than to sail all the way across the ocean to Tripoli, where most of their business apparently was. Ferdie couldn’t quite place the accent – it sounded almost Jamaican, but leaned to both French and Spanish. While the portly finch was certainly from the Caribbean, and English was obviously far from his native tongue, Ferdie gathered his accent was an amalgam derived from a childhood serving as a cook or cabin boy for any old ship that came to port, regardless of nationality.
Moreover, the finch seemed entirely truthful in everything he said, leaving Ferdie to conclude the obvious: these were real, 17th Century pirates. Their ship was not a restoration, and they were not historically insane devotees of traditional piracy - they were the real deal. Now, your everyday Joe might scoff at this notion of past-meets-present and time-travel and what-have-you, but scholars of the supernatural, the paranormal, and the occasionally just downright weird have an entirely different way of looking at things. To Ferdie, his presence on an actual 17th Century pirate vessel, complete with vintage crew, was an extraordinary event that meant one of two things: either Bobetta’s yacht had passed through a time wrinkle and wound up in the 17th Century Carribean - in which case he should find out whether or not Bob meant it when he said he’d shoot Ferdie the next time the bluebird screamed, as he was really rather overdue for some quality freaked-out screaming - or a shipload of 17th Century Carribean pirates had somehow wound up off the coast of 20th Century California, which had the potential to be incredibly cool and anthropologically fascinating if they could just convince the crew not to sail into port with cannons blazing.
This warranted more investigation. Provided, of course, said investigation would not require him to eat the rancid greenish strip of leather the cook was trying to pass off as freshly-trapped rodent meat.
Sunset was a symphony of feathery reds and purples and vibrant oranges and pinks; a nice, healthy sunset that eased his concerns over the dark mass of clouds stretching out across the far horizon. Tonight would be peaceful. The wind might pick up a bit, and the clouds might mask the stars – but his crew had candles, a compass, and positioning equipment, and thus had little need for Polaris and her kin. Bob was reluctant to admit that, after the blow to the head he’d received earlier that day, he didn’t exactly know himself where it was they were headed, but he wasn’t about to mention it to anyone else on board. After all, the captain must always appear to be in complete control; to show weakness was to risk mutiny. Besides, the crew went about their tasks with a certainty that bespoke the fact that they had a specific destination in mind, and knew its route well enough not to require their captain’s guidance on the matter.
Things had calmed noticeably since Iiwi’s departure. Bob supposed he probably shouldn’t have ordered the Flier shot, but he’d been battling a rather serious headache at the time, and her screeching had gotten on his nerves. It was much nicer now that she was gone and it was quiet, and he was willing to allow the Flier back aboard without retribution as long as she’d apologize for some of the things she’d called him during her tirade, and explain exactly what certain other things had meant before apologizing for them, too.
Bobetta had calmed enough from her earlier hysterics that he’d ordered her ropes loosened - at which point she’d fled to the captain’s chambers and locked herself in, barring the doors and sobbing and apparently falling into an entirely new fit of hysterics – but it wasn’t long until she’d tired and fallen silent. The wench, Gracie, had eventually screamed herself hoarse, which was nice, because in addition to drastically reducing the noise level, it also meant the roar of the sea breaking over the bow was just the roar of the sea, and not the roar of the sea plus the wails of what was quite possibly the most annoying Frenchwoman on the planet.
Ivan had yet to resurface, so Bob could only assume the fiend had been safely secured below-decks, but the rabbit that worked for him had gotten loose. After hunting down and by all accounts rather brutally maiming those that had dragged her down to the brig in the first place, she’d presented herself to the captain, brazenly expressing her intention of joining the crew. Unorthodox as her application might have been, it was nonetheless most fortunate, as he somehow seemed to be lacking skilled climbers to tend the rigging. Besides, the girl was surprisingly skillful when it came to violence, and Bob figured it never hurt to add a fighter like that to a pirate’s crew. Besides, it seemed, Ivan’s sign holder wasn’t tagging along behind her for once, which was probably the best indication he’d get that she was acting alone.
Across the deck, Beak caught his attention and began striding over, pausing every now and again to let the odd pirate pass. His crew was so busy and dedicated to their work that they scarcely seemed to notice their commanding officers’ presence! Being captain certainly was easy – he simply gave Beak his orders, and the tall kiwi in turn instructed the crew in how to best go about carrying them out.
“The crew expects an easy night,” Beak stated, falling into step with Bob as he made his rounds on deck. “Though friend Ferdie wishes me to reiterate the importance of recovering those the enemy put to sea.”
Bob peered at his second-in-command carefully, studying him with his good eye. “That would be a waste of time and effort. They’re leagues behind us by now. We might as well start looking for Iiwi as for the castaways; it would yield the same results.”
Beak blinked, tired. “If those are your orders,” he sighed. His wrist no longer bore the false hand he had worn earlier, and Bob found himself wondering why anyone with two perfectly good hands would wander about with a false one. Certainly, he would never do such a thing. Why, if he still had his left hand….but there was no use in thinking that way. He had his hook, and that would do fine. He did wonder just what had happened to him in the past, as he also seemed to be missing his left eye and a leg. Shark attack, he decided. Or possibly a stray cannon.
“How’s Miss Bobetta doing?” Beak queried.
“Not well, I’m afraid,” Bob winced. “Can you believe it, she’s threatened to maim me! And she used rather coarse language to do so!”
“I’ve asked the crew to be mindful of their tongues. She should hear no more oaths such as those.”
“That’s not the point! She should have no knowledge of such words! Clearly, she’s spent too much time as my arch-nemesis’ captive! I’ve a mind to keel-haul him right here and now!”
Beak’s left eye twitched. “Are you certain that’s wise? It would…uh…impede our progress, and distract the crew…”
“Hang him from a yardarm, then!”
“But…we really do need to conserve rope, B- -er, Captain. Our supplies are low and we recovered next to none of the rope used in the day’s raid.”
Bob sighed. Justice would simply have to wait. “Very well, then. Leave him as he is. We can always make him walk the plank tomorrow, I suppose…”
Beak uttered a low sound. A gurgle, almost. It looked as if he had paled a bit, too, but then the kiwi was probably simply tired. Bob left orders for him to get some rest as soon as the night watch had settled into their shift, then bid good night himself, heading for his makeshift quarters at the back of the ship. He had to make an entry into the ship’s log, after all, and the view from the stern was so much more pleasant than that from the deck, where wood and rope and sails obstructed the horizon.
“Ferdia. Wake up.”
Someone was trying to shake her awake, but she was having none of that, clinging tightly to the last vestiges of sleep. Burrowing her beak to shield her eyes from the gaining sunlight, she curled into a tight ball, ignoring whoever it was. She was lying on an uncomfortably hard floor, which she supposed ruled out the station’s sofa, but her head was propped on something vaguely pillow-y, which suggested she’d crashed on one of the booking benches instead.
“Come on. It’s your shift.”
Which, of course, meant the person trying to wake her was either Trevor or Squeaks. Oh, it might be Casey, but she tended to think otherwise. The finch had taken to tossing wadded up balls of paper at her instead of shaking her to wake her up, as the former gave him several yards’ head start, which was generally all he needed to avoid reprisal. The lack of references to her as “Blue” tended to suggest that it was Squeaks, but then Trevor had been getting better at mimicking the mouse ever since the green finch had noticed that Squeaks tended not to get pummeled for waking her up.
She was still debating her list of suspects when she caught the scent of saltwater and sun-bleached wood. She snapped awake, taking in her surroundings for a moment before giving her life preserver / pillow a frustrated punch. “Crap.”
Squeaks cocked his head, curious.
“Sorry,” she shook her head, “I’d half hoped the lost-at-sea bit was a dream. I mean, aliens and starships are one thing, but dyed-in-the-wool, skull-and-crossbones, swashbuckling pirates? Unreal.”
The mouse shook his head. “I won’t pretend it makes sense to me. But we need to keep moving.”
Grudgingly, Ferdia took her position at the oars as her partner settled back against the supplies and life preserver. “You really want to try shifts again? That didn’t work before…”
“We both rowed most of yesterday; it stood to reason we’d fall asleep during our night shifts,” he shrugged tiredly, yawning. “We’re just lucky we didn’t lose any oars. I’ve been rowing since right before dawn, and I think we’re on an easterly course again. But we probably drifted most of the night, and the wind’s picked up.”
“More clouds, too,” Ferdia noted, scanning the skies overhead in vain hopes of spotting an airplane. “But it tends to be misty and cloudy over the ocean in the morning anyway.”
“Sky’s pink,” her partner stated, eyes shut, arms folded across his middle.
“You’re not going to tell me you buy into that old sailors’ adage, are you?”
Squeaks shrugged. “It came about for a reason. Besides, I spent a good deal of time in the Navy. We like sailors’ adages.”
“Squeaks, we’re on open ocean in a dinky little dry-rotting rowboat that looks like it’s centuries old, patched with driftwood, and was probably built by a pair of drunken fishermen anyway. I forbid you or your adages to be right.”
Squeaks opened his eyes just enough to meet her gaze. “I hope they’re wrong, too, but if they’re not…” he trailed off, half-shrugging as his eyes closed once again, “With a little luck we might just skirt the edges of the storm.”
“All this because the Chief thought we deserved some time off. I hate vacations.”
Beak wandered along the deck, willing a headache away and noting happily that the pirates’ minds were still wholly under his control. His own mind was feeling rather tired and overtaxed, as his headache attested to, but he was pleased to note his abilities weren’t waning on this world. He’d loosened his control on the pirates a bit, leaving instructions to obey him and Bob and not to harm anyone else in their group, but otherwise letting them do as they pleased. They were acting much more naturally now – running late, getting drunk, scrapping in tussles, taking sloppy readings, etc. – and because he was no longer controlling their every whim, he was under considerably less strain. He could think more clearly now, and had thus renewed his efforts to “persuade” Bob to move his “figurehead” off the bowsprit and onto the mast. No success yet on that score, but he was trying.
Ferdie had caught up with him earlier and attempted to explain something important to him. Apparently Bob really did think they were all pirates, but Ferdie wasn’t entirely certain how to fix this, and forbade Beak from trying on the grounds that he’d rather have all the pirates under control than risk overtaxing the Magi and losing control of the crew altogether. Ferdie had also told him these pirates were real, and from an earlier time. This made little sense to Beak, but Ferdie’s explanation only confused him more. Yes, he knew the bluebird had taken a spyglass and observed the stars last night, but he didn’t quite understand what satellites and space junk had to do with pirates. Still, whatever it was, Ferdie seemed to think it was good news.
He walked over to where Bob stood on the rear deck, observing the activity on the decks below. Bob was intensely scrutinizing every last pirate and their actions, shouting out reprimands and new orders as the need arose. The yellow kiwi looked a bit worried, though Beak could not begin to think why. Everything was going well. Was Bob getting bored, maybe, or did he just miss his morning coffee?
“Good day, captain,” he greeted Bob.
“For now,” the smaller kiwi allowed. “Did you see the sky this morning? All reds and pinks.”
“Yes. Very nice.”
“No! Not nice! Bad!”
“Bad?” Beak was confused. It had been a pretty sunrise. Why did Bob think that was bad?
“ ‘Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.’ Haven’t you ever heard that?” Bob demanded, snorting with surprise as Beak shook his head. “Well! See, that’s why you can’t be the captain! Captains need to know these things!”
“I don’t get it,” Beak said. “It’s just a rhyme.”
“It means we’re in for a storm! Don’t you see the clouds? Can’t you feel it in the air? Look, even the wind’s picked up!”
“Maybe it’s just going to be a little rain shower.”
Bob shook his head in disbelief. “And I made you my second in command. Why? Why, why, why?...”
“Ahoy! Ship ahoy! Ahoy there!”
Ferdia looked up from the hard tack she was currently trying to make her lunch. “Hey! There’s someone out there!”
“I hear them,” Squeaks replied, swiveling his ears around to try to pinpoint the call. Ferdia rose from her spot in the longboat and stared out along the horizon, scanning both sea and sky.
The sky was low and overcast, and held an ever-increasing amount of dark clouds, but seemed devoid of life. The ocean around them also seemed empty, as no ships or shadows were evident anywhere. For a few moments, the two wondered if the voice had simply been a bizarre trick of the wind, or an auditory illusion created by ears that longed to hear that very phrase. But the calls continued steadily, until at last Squeaks caught sight of something bobbing amongst the waves.
“There they are! Off to starboard, in the swells!”
Ferdia peered in the direction he indicated, catching sight of a snatch of yellow as the ocean’s waves shifted their undulation with the wind. “That’s Bobetta’s raft!” Bracing herself on the bow and one of the starboard oar locks, she leaned forward, waving madly. Someone else must’ve been thrown off the pirate ship – Iiwi, maybe, or possibly Ferdie. Her brother could bend the laws of physics in interesting ways when fleeing danger; she wouldn’t’ve put it past him to leap off the pirates’ ship and swim for their yacht’s wreckage… “Hey! Hey there! Hey!”
“Ahoy! Ship ahoy!” the raft’s occupant bleated.
“Ahoy!” Squeaks yelled, “We see you! Stay your course, we’re coming!”
With that, the pair took up their oars, rowing furiously to meet the bobbing yellow raft, which had no oars of its own and thus continued drifting in the waves, complicating their task. The rough seas appeared to be swamping the craft, sloshing seawater over her sides and bogging her down. Aware that their craft would sink below the surface entirely if this continued for long, the raft’s lone occupant was frantically bailing out the intruding water with their hat as well as their hands; nevertheless, the swamped raft sat so low in the water that it wasn’t until they were 10 feet apart that the detectives recognized their fellow castaway.
“You!” Ferdia screeched, pausing in her rowing to glare at their would-be rescue-ee.
“Good noontime to ye!” Biggs waved, “Fine day fer sailin’, wouldn’t ye say?”
Ferdia shook her head with disgust. “All that rowing….wasted…” she grumbled.
“Many thanks fer pullin’ me aboard,” the graying marten grinned, taking a seat near the stern as the pair made an effort to tether the bright yellow craft to the longboat. “I wouldn’ae bother wit’ that,” he admonished them, “Strange thing. Floats well, but ripped righ’ through th’ bottom when me swordbelt got caught.”
“Of course it did!” the bluebird glared at him, “It’s only rubber and air! With all the sharp edges on that belt of yours, it’s a wonder you didn’t puncture the sides!”
“What are you doing off your ship?” the mouse asked calmly.
It was a rhetorical question; a quite barb that more subtly echoed the bluebird’s sentiments. What was he doing off his ship, indeed! He was soaked to the skin, and had been drifting helplessly about in a bit of floating debris from a captured ship. The only logical explanation for a pirate captain in such a predicament was that he’d been tossed overboard by his own crew, and it was evident from the glint in the mouse’s eyes that the sailor suspected as much. Spiteful creatures, these colonials, Biggs thought. Wrong them once, and that’s all they remember. “Aren’t ye th’ least bit concerned fer yer mates?” He nodded at the bluebird. “Yer brother, I’m guessin’, ‘e raised quite a ruckus when we put th’ two o’ yer overboard. Yer mates joined ‘im, and started fightin’ anew. I was knocked inter th’ drink in th’ confusion.”
“Good,” the bluebird growled, in a youthfully-pitched voice that made Biggs wonder if he hadn’t perhaps overestimated the boy’s age. Perhaps this was the younger of the brothers, out to upstage his foolish elder?
“D’ye nae understand? That leaves the lot o’ ‘em at th’ tender mercies o’ me crew!”
“We understand perfectly,” the bird returned, glaring angrily at the marten, “And I’d like to think Beak would have the sense to step in and keep them all safe. All the same, if anything happens to my brother, so help me, I’ll hunt down every last member of your ‘crew’ and-”
“Ye two’re doin’ better’n I expected,” Biggs interrupted nervously, quickly shifting the subject before the boy’s temper got the better of him. Fights in a longboat on open seas often ended with one or both parties lost to Davy Jones. “Hope I’m nae too much o’ inconvenience.”
The scowl instantly vanished. “Oh, not at all,” the bluebird said, a wicked grin flashing onto his face, “In fact, you’re actually *quite* convenient!”
Dumbfounded by the sudden change in the bird’s mood, Biggs could form no reaction. The mouse, on the other hand, seemed to know exactly what it was the bird meant.
“Oh, absolutely,” he grinned. “In fact, you’ve solved a bit of a problem, even!”
“Which almost makes up for the fact that you interrupted our lunch!”
“Almost,” the mouse agreed, nodding.
Biggs found himself at a loss for words. “What are th’ two o’ ye on about?”
The bluebird unlocked a set of oars, leaning forward and pressing them into the marten’s chest. “As long as you’re here, you might as well make yourself useful.”
Biggs blinked, staring dumbly at the oars.
“We’re tired,” the bird explained, grinning wickedly, “And hungry. You row, we rest.”
At that, the two took up comfortable seats near the bow, rifling through their supplies of food and fishing out flasks of water and small packaged sandwiches as if they were on a picnic. For a moment, the absurdity of the situation amazed Biggs, until a tiny voice in the back of his mind reminded him that the Colonies were *British*, after all. He should probably just be thankful they didn’t upbraid him for the lack of tea and crumpets in their survival rations.
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