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Chapter 30
6 Sp'mo' (We'yetday)

1

As it happened, Lance and Brynne had a little cottage on the shoreline, not more than a half hour's walk from the marina where Alyn would be leading the group, a bit later. She pointed this out at a fork in the road, as they were nearing their destination. "We'll be taking a left to get to the cottage," she said, "but if we were going straight to the docks, we'd take the right. After our visit, though, we can just walk north along the shore, instead of backtracking." Hearing this, Darius was glad he'd worn his boots.

Just as they reached the cottage, Lance and Brynne were coming out the front door. Brynne was the first to speak when she saw Alyn. "Oh, hi, Anne!" she exclaimed, in about the friendliest tone Darius thought he'd ever heard. "I wish we'd known you were coming. We're just heading out to get some suppah in town."

"Sorry," said Alyn. "I should have called ahead. Anyway, I-"

She was interrupted by her brother, who'd been smiling until just this moment, when suddenly his eyes widened in shock. He'd taken a moment to glance at each of his sister's companions, but his gaze fell longer upon Darius, who looked familiar. It was when he suddenly realized who he looked like that he cut Alyn's words off with "Is that who I think it is?" He fixed his eyes now upon Alyn and said, "Sis? Is he...?"

Brynne frowned. "Lance, should you be calling her 'Sis' in front of strangers?"

Alyn smiled. "It's okay. They all know who I am. And yes, this young man is indeed Darius."

Lance looked at him again, grinned, and extended his hand. "Good to see you again. It's been a long time."

Darius hesitantly took his uncle's hand and replied, "Yeah. Good to see you, too." When Lance released his hand, Darius turned to Brynne and said, "And, um, nice to meet you. I'm Darius Lonewander. Lance's nephew. I dunno if you know... anything about me, or... anything...." He felt awkward, as he always did when meeting someone new. He did his best to look at her without averting his eyes too much.

His aunt-in-law smiled and said, "So, you're the prodigal son who my husband's clan named themselves after, are you? Well, I sure am glad to meet you!" She began to open her arms to embrace him, but could see this made him uncomfortable, so instead she simply put out her hand, which Darius shook.

Turning back to Alyn, she said, "Well, Anne, or if I may call you Alyn, why don't you all join us? We're heading to the Briny Lobstah."

"I'm sure we'd all really like that, though Darius is in rather a hurry to attend to some business. This was only going to be a short visit."

Darius sighed. "Well, I suppose it couldn't hurt to at least walk with them for a bit." Looking at Brynne, he said, "We were going to walk along the shore, though... um... would that be too inconvenient for you?"

"Actually," said Lance, "we have reservations, so-"

"Nonsense!" said Brynne. "You know they don't pay attention to reservations. Even when we do have them, we usually end up waiting once we get there. Why not let them wait for us, for a change? Besides, the longer walk will help build up our appetites."

So, Alyn introduced the others in the group, and they all began walking. Darius mostly stared out at the ocean, though he paid close attention to the conversation, and thought of several things he'd like to say, himself. Though of course, he always found it nearly impossible to interrupt when others were speaking, which in this case left him few openings. At least he answered a few questions his aunt and uncle had for him, though he was afraid his answers didn't sound very interesting. He did eventually manage to ask about Lance's assumed surname before marrying Brynne. Surely one would have been necessary, and surely he wouldn't have gone by 'Lonewander.'

"Woodcut," said Lance. "I didn't really leave the estate that much, until I met Brynne. When I was first getting to know her, I had to make up a surname... before I knew she could be trusted with our secret. Since I'm a woodsman by trade, that's the first thing that came to mind. Adam later obtained a fake ID for me, and it's a lucky thing the name I'd blurted out hadn't already been taken by some other clan. Still, I hardly ever used the name in any official way. And then, when we got married, I took her name. I guess on Earth, it's generally assumed that the woman will take her husband's name, at least that's what spirits told Nelly and Joss. But, you know, Landians haven't been using surnames that long, or at least humans haven't. So, it seems like we all kind of adopted the traditions of Elves, who've been using surnames much longer than we have. Basically, it's a random decision a couple arrives at, which name they'll both use after they're married. If one clan is more prominent than the other, they'll generally go with that clan's name. But usually it's a fairly even thing, among common folk. Either way, we didn't want to draw attention to my clan, so I just chose to use her name. And thus ended the illustrious line of the 'Woodcuts.' ...Though I think that means in a generation or so, the name will be up for grabs again."

Darius nodded. He continued trying to think of other questions, but he couldn't think of anything that really interested him. So, he just concentrated on listening to the ongoing conversation between the others. Mostly this meant his mother, uncle, and aunt. Finally, the group reached the marina.

"Well, it's been sure nice seeing you, Anne," said Brynne. She'd reverted to Alyn's assumed name, as they'd reached a point in the road where strangers occasionally passed them by. "You too, Darius. It's awful too bad you couldn't join us, but perhaps we'll be seeing you again sometime soon."

"I hope so," replied Alyn. She glanced at her son as she added, "If all goes well."

Looking at Brynne and Lance, Darius said, "But hey, even if... my plans don't work out, you and Anne will still be... you know, friends. So I'm sure you'll see plenty of each other."

"I suppose so," said Brynne, "but we'd like to see more of you, as well."

"Definitely," agreed Lance.

"Hmmm," said Darius. "Well... we'll see. Anyway, um... enjoy your supper."

"We will," said Brynne. "And good luck with... whatever your business may be." This was one subject they had all intentionally avoided during the walk. Darius understood why his group had avoided it, though he wondered how Lance and Brynne knew to do so. But he was glad they had.

"Thanks." As usual, Darius felt awkward, unsure of what else should be said or done before parting ways. After a few moments' hesitation, he simply turned and walked toward the docks, even though he wasn't sure exactly where he was going. Alyn quickly hugged her brother and sister-in-law, before resuming the lead....

2

After a bit of walking, Alyn stopped at Dock 42, and looked up at the ship which was moored there. "Ah, good. Woodsorrow. This is your cousin's ship. I wasn't sure if it would be in port. If not, well, there were a few other possibilities...."

Before Darius could say anything, Rune spoke up. "Lucky thing, indeed. And, by an unexpected coincidence, Woodsorrow happens to be my friend's ship, as well as your cousin's."

Darius mumbled to himself, "I seem to be something of a magnet for coincidences." Speaking up again, he said, "Well, let's go, then." He began walking forward, then suddenly stopped, turned to his mother, and asked, "Is there some sort of protocol for this? I suppose we can't just board the ship unannounced."

"Naturally not. Normally one would go to the harbourmaster's office to arrange a meeting with an officer of a particular ship, though we can skip that, since we know one of the officers personally. Of course, I could just call Cara via t-mail, if she ever used it. But that would require some further identifier than just her first name, and like I said, I don't know that she actually uses a last name. Nor has she any official or sufficiently unique title to serve as an identifier. You know, before the war, your father's t-mail ID was 'Adam of Triscot,' which is what he was commonly known as, since people didn't have surnames, back then. I'm sure there must have been other Adams who lived in Triscot, but surely none so important, let alone any who could afford t-mail before the Order made it so common as it is now. It always irked him a little, being known by that name, for the very reason that it did obviate his status level. And you know how he feels about that...."

"Yes, Mom." Darius knew he shouldn't have called her that, but he was aware enough of his surroundings to know no strangers would overhear it. "We had any number of arguments about that, back in the day. And of course I knew his t-mail handle; I did call him on occasion, you know. Anyway... if we can't call Cara, how are we going to contact her?"

"There's a pub nearby where various pirate crews like to go, including those of the Woodsorrow. We'll likely find her there."

"Well then, lead the way."

It didn't take them long to reach the Mal de Mer. Alyn said the name of the place was a joke, a play on a subphrase that meant "seasick." In this case, it could mean either a place to go when they got sick of being at sea, or a place for seafarers to go in order to get sick. That is, hung over. She didn't suppose Cara did that much drinking, but she also admitted it was none of her business, so she never asked.

Apparently the pub wasn't exclusively for pirates, since they had no trouble getting in. Happy hour was just getting started as they entered, so none of the patrons had yet drunk enough to grow particularly loud or rowdy, much to Darius's relief. He hated when people got like that; he himself was generally fairly quiet and withdrawn even when drunk. Still, it was bad enough just having to be in a crowded public place, no matter how the people were behaving.

Alyn led them to a table where sat a group of people who all seemed to be enjoying themselves. Obviously they knew each other well, so they were probably crewmates. Though he thought after being stuck on a ship with the same people for however long they were at sea, they might want to get away from each other for awhile.

Alyn tapped a young woman on the shoulder, and when she turned her head, it didn't take Darius long to recognize his cousin, in spite of how much she'd grown in the past eight years.

"Anne!" exclaimed Cara, jumping up from the table and giving her a hug. "So good to see you! What brings you to Shanty?"

"I've come to talk to you about something. Well, actually, he's come to talk to you," she said, stepping aside and putting a hand on her son's shoulder. "Cara, perhaps you remember Darius?"

Cara stared at her cousin in shock for a few moments, before smiling and hugging him. Darius wasn't entirely comfortable with this, but he returned the hug anyway. "It's been a long time, Dare," she said.

As they moved apart again, Darius replied, "Uh, yeah. So... I'm sorry. Um, what we have to discuss, maybe it should be in private, but if you're busy right now... maybe we can find you a bit later? Where are you staying, when you're in town?"

"Oh, I have an apartment, but the walls are thin and the neighbors are nosy. It'd probably be safer to discuss private matters in public, actualy. Certainly I can't imagine you could say anything to me that you couldn't say in front of my crew."

Darius glanced around the table. All eyes were on Cara and the group that was now standing before her. Darius never liked being looked at, especially by strangers. But that was just one of the things he knew he was going to have to get over. "Well," he said, focusing on his cousin, "before we get down to business, I should ask something of a relatively trivial nature. Anne told us she doesn't know whether you go by... well, what surname you might use, or whether you use one at all. Aside from a matter of simple curiosity, it would also be nice to know if we could contact you by t-mail, in case we ever have to."

The pirates around the table all immediately began grinning, and a number of them broke out laughing. Cara blushed slightly, then turned to glare at her crewmates.

Turning back to Darius, she explained, "Actually... at first I didn't plan on using any surname. When I first started working on the ship, it didn't matter, because my position was inconsequential. But I soon started rising through the ranks, as I proved my worth. And finally, when the captain decided to make me a junior officer, he asked... well, he seemed a bit embarrassed to admit he didn't know my last name. I told him that's because I didn't have one. But he said all officers had to have a last name, that it would be inappropriate for an officer to be addressed familiarly. Being addressed by surname, both by those above me and those below me, was a sign of respect. I said I understood that, but I didn't mind just being called 'Cara,' and anyway I couldn't think of a name I liked." She paused a moment before saying, "Don't get me wrong, 'Lonewander' is a fine name, but I just don't think it suits me. And besides, none of us use it publicly, so I would have had to think of something else. Although, don't worry, it should be perfectly safe to use it among the crew, I just didn't want to explain why they couldn't call me that in public." She sighed, and added, "But I suppose now I'll have to." Glancing back at the crew, she said, "Later." Turning again to Darius, she said, "Anyway, I asked the captain if he'd make an exception. I'd rather just make do without a surname. And that was when he said that if I wanted to 'make do,' that's what they'd call me: Cara MakeDo. Which I found a bit embarrassing, but... captain's orders, I had to accept it. And they enjoy calling me that, just because they think it's funny to nettle me. I tried to reason with the captain that their making fun of me that way is not respectful at all, so it accomplishes the exact opposite of the reason he said I needed a surname in the first place, but he just wouldn't listen. To make matters worse, Doog eventually found out about it when he was visiting me one time, and he started calling himself MakeDo, as well. He actually seems to like it! Though probably that's just because my brother has always liked annoying me."

At this point, Rune looked at the older, bearded man at the head of the table, whose attire clearly marked him as the ship's captain. "That's not very nice of you, Al," said Rune. "I think you owe this young lady an apology, and a chance to choose a new surname."

Darius glanced at Rune in surprise. "Um, Rune, I might agree, but I don't know if you should-"

The captain stood up, now, and after briefly casting a stern look at Rune, he began laughing for the first time, himself. "Don't worry about it, son. Rune's an old friend."

Turning to Darius, Rune said with a grin, "I did tell you I had a friend who was a pirate, and who served on the same ship as your cousin." With a wave of his hand toward the captain, he said, "Might I introduce Alphonse Teach? We were both once wandering masters, but during the Coming, he saw sooner than I that ours was a dying profession, so he joined the Protestant Navy very early on."

Darius said, "Somehow, I didn't think the friend you'd mentioned would be a captain."

"Suspected he must be a dock rat, perhaps? A street rat such as myself surely couldn't have friends in high places," he said with a touch of amusement in his voice. "But you forget, I wasn't always a street rat."

"Um, well..." Darius was ashamed to admit that, consciously or unconsciously, that pretty much had been what he'd assumed. Still, he was glad to see that Rune wasn't offended. Rather than apologize, he walked over to the captain and shook his hand. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been the one to initiate a handshake; in fact he wasn't sure he'd ever done so in his life. But this was important, possibly the most important thing he'd done in the cause so far. He wanted to make the best impression he could. "It's an honor to meet you, sir."

Captain Teach shook Darius's hand, and asked. "So, your name is Darius Lonewander, is it? Can't say I've heard of you, though Cara has spoken a bit of her clan. Whatever it is you wanted to discuss with her, I'd be happy to sit in on that conversation. Perhaps we could hold the meeting on my ship, however. Cara may be right that this would be a safer place for private talks than her apartment, but no place is safer than the Woodsorrow herself."

"An excellent suggestion, sir. In fact, I suppose I would have wanted to meet you eventually, anyway. What I have to discuss with Cara... well, it's bigger than something she alone could help us with."

Teach nodded. Turning to his crew, he said, "Well then... you all know where to find me if you need me. Carry on." To Darius, "Come along, then, follow me." He picked up his mug and quickly finished off his ale, then turned and strode out of the pub. Cara followed, along with Darius's group.

Rune said, "Al, about that apology I mentioned-"

Before the captain could respond, Cara laughed and said, "Don't worry about it. I like to complain about it, but it's all in good fun, and I've actually gotten used to the name, by now."

Alyn said, "You know, it's strange that Doog hasn't mentioned this. His letters are still signed just plain 'Doog.' You'd think he'd let us know he's taken on a new surname. Or is that even official? Do you suppose he only uses it around you?"

"Oh, no, I'm quite certain he's registered the name, and really goes by it. If he hasn't told the family yet, it's probably because he's waiting to do so in person, so he can really enjoy it. Especially sometime when we're both home for a visit." She grinned as a thought struck her. "But, if you all know about the name already when he eventually tries to surprise you with it, it won't have the impact he'll have been hoping for. We can just play it off all nonchalant-like. I'd love to see his plan backfire." Darius and Alyn also grinned at the thought.

Without further conversation, Captain Teach and Cara led Darius, Alyn, Rune, and Dave back to Dock 42, and up to the deck of the Woodsorrow, where they were joined by Teach's first mate, Flynn Sharpblunt. (He was only a few years older than Cara, but like her, had quickly moved up the ranks after joining the crew, four years ago.)

"Well, here we are," said Cara, after the captain had introduced Mr. Sharpblunt to the newcomers. "What exactly did you want to talk about, Darius?"

"Ummm..." he said absently. He was suddenly in the mood to look around the ship, rather than stand around or sit on crates and things, as the others were doing. He was nervous about the thought of getting straight to business, and his mind was trying to come up with other topics to discuss. "Sorry. I... my mind likes to procrastinate, wander onto random topics. Like, how'd the ship get its name?"

"Well," said Captain Teach, "it was originally called Woodsorrel, when it was a merchant ship. I don't really know why it was given that name, but I've always liked woodsorrel, which is part of the reason I chose to join the crew as first mate, back in 902. But the thing is, the first time I ever heard the name of the plant, when I was a young boy, I swear the person who showed it to me and told me it could be eaten... well, I thought he said 'wood sorrow.' In fact, he may have, I don't really know. Whether he mispronounced it or I merely misheard it, I went on pronouncing it that way for years, before I ever saw the word written down. Even then, I thought, well... lots of times words simply aren't said the way they're written. Eventually I did learn to pronounce it 'sorrel,' but somehow... I still prefer the pronunciation of my youth. And when I succeeded Captain Verde, who retired after the war, I decided to officially rename the ship Woodsorrow. I thought the name was just more fitting, in some way, more evocative... As if it implied some great tragic story, or something. Not that I was hoping for any tragedies to befall me, the ship, or the crew." He shrugged. "I've just always enjoyed literature and plays, so I have a feel for drama. But in any event, I renamed it. Lot of people rename boats they get used, maybe even pets they get that were previously owned. Anything with a name can be renamed. At least I only needed to change two letters on the bow. Saved money on paint!" he concluded with a grin.

Darius nodded, his naturally neutral/pensive expression not changing. He bowed his head for a few moments, and closed his eyes, trying to collect the will power to get on with the business at hand. Finally he looked up, and began. "All very interesting, but I've been avoiding the point of this meeting. I suppose I should get to it." With a small sigh, he continued, "Captain, since pirates are clearly people who work outside the law, and moreso because you yourself fought the Order during the war, I feel it should be safe to be open with you. Of course, it also helps that my cousin obviously trusts you. Anyway, the fact is, I'm planning a potential rebellion. A renewed effort to oppose the Second Order, though I'm not certain it will necessarily come to war. Even if it doesn't, it is essential that I be prepared for the possibility.

"I expect you'll need a good reason to trust that I'm telling you all this in earnest." (He avoided mentioning that this point hadn't occurred to him, the first time he recruited people to his cause.) "Well, if Cara's talked to you about her clan, you may know they themselves were a large part of the war. My father is Adam of Triscot... who I've just recently learned is still alive; in fact, I just learned Cara herself is still alive." Nodding toward his mother, he added, "I don't know if you've met Anne before today, but her real name is Alyn, and she's my mother... Adam's wife, of course. I'm not even sure if Cara's mentioned any of this, since it's supposed to be a secret from the world, our clan having survived the war. And she addressed her as 'Anne' back in the pub, but that could just be because it was a public place, and not because she was keeping the truth from you, specifically. Either way, my father, and probably other members of my clan, are to be an important part of my rebellion, and if I've mentioned the rebellion itself, I might as well mention them, too."

The captain looked thoughtfully at Cara, Darius, and Alyn for a few moments before replying, "Actually, she hadn't told me about them; nor had I met any of her relatives. Her stories were mostly more personal in nature, little things about her parents and brother. I knew her parents died when she was about nine, though she never said how. I suppose it must have been at the Battle of Triscot?" He glanced at Cara sympathetically; she nodded, sadly. Turning back to Darius, he continued, "And I knew that since then, she and her younger brother had been raised by the extended family, and that they lived in Triscot. But she never gave any details, really. Certainly she never made it known who her family actually were, let alone that she or any of them were supposed to be dead." After another brief silence he said, "So, do continue with your story."

"Yes. Well, I've been thinking of a rebellion for years now, but meanwhile I've just been having unrelated adventures. Only rarely have I teamed up with anyone, but I always knew that if I ever wanted to start my rebellion, I'd eventually have to work on a more permanent, and closer basis with a great many people. So in all my adventures, whenever I've met anyone, I made a mental note of whether they seemed like someone who might want to get involved in such a thing. For the most part, they haven't, and certainly I never said anything to anyone that might indicate I was thinking about anything like this. Not until a few weeks ago, anyway, when I met someone named Tom, who introduced me to some other adventurers, and..." he shrugged. "Well, things just started happening at a pretty surprising pace. Then the other day I was reunited with my clan, which has exponentially increased the number of people who might join the rebellion- which, by the way, is called 'The Chaos.'"

The captain grinned at that, which made Darius uncomfortable. He started to look away, but quickly forced himself to look at the captain without flinching. "My father has many contacts who should prove useful. Oh, and also, LandOrder has gotten involved, though they're still pretty much... behind the scenes, and I'm not sure how much help I can count on from them, in any direct way. But indirectly, they've already been a great help, and soon they'll be providing us... with something useful. I won't get into that right now. I will say I was apprehensive about getting involved with criminals, especially considering the role they played in establishing the Second Order in the first place. But having had some time to get used to that idea, well, it's rather prepared me for the idea my father suggested last night, which is, as you will no doubt have guessed, that I see about getting some pirates to raise a navy for the Chaos.

"Lest you should think my incentive for rebellion had vanished once I learned my clan were alive, let me tell you... well, some of them really did die in the war, obviously. But more importantly, I've always thought- no, that's not right. I've thought since the end of the war, if not sooner, but not always... that much of what was done both in order to establish the world government, and since the accomplishment of that end... was wrong. Not all of it, mind you, but a lot of it. There are things I wouldn't change, now, but I do want to move the world back a bit. Closer to what it was before the Coming, but not completely. I don't know if my being related to people who were involved in the Protestant Movement is enough to convince you of my sincerity, but the people who've already joined my cause were strangers until recently, and not ones to easily trust someone like me. Hopefully the fact that they chose to take me at my word- after some investigating- will help my credibility. But as I pointed out earlier, pirates are already outlaws, and therefore it seems you would have nothing to lose by trusting me, even if I wasn't sincere. So the only question, as I see it, is, would you be interested in such an undertaking?"

Teach leaned back on his crate, and turned his face skyward, in silent thought. After several centhours, he looked back at Darius. "First, you should know that just because all pirates are technically criminals who the Order is against, it doesn't mean they're all automatically against the Order. I don't doubt that my entire crew would support your cause, and I know a fair number of other pirates who would also do so, though I doubt there are many ships whose crews would be unanimous in this. So... it's not as if we could just make a list of ships that might be placed at your disposal. A good deal of reorganizing would be in order, first, and that could prove problematic. For one thing, it would be difficult to find a reason for amenable captains to fire crewmen who couldn't be told the real reason they were being let go; likewise it would be hard to explain the hiring of new crewmen, who would themselves have been traded from other ships... which would also mean somehow eliciting the cooperation of captains who wouldn't be in on the real reason they were being asked to give us their people. All this reorganizing would have to be done on a widespread scale, under some pretext or set of unrelated pretexts, with almost no one, including those on our side, knowing the truth of the matter, at least at first. For another thing... well, obviously a person is more than just his political views. Much more. The fact is, even if a captain was interested in joining a rebellion... letting some of his or her people go would be difficult on more than a mere practical level, but also on a personal one. Even if their political views differed, they still could be loyal and capable men and women, valued and trusted crew, and quite likely good friends. Most crews even become like family, if they serve together long enough."

"Hmmm." Darius suddenly found himself thinking again of something which had but rarely crossed his mind, since the night he first met Tiejo. The question of 'fellowship,' or some such word to describe all the people who were called 'Streetrat.' Or various other surnames ending in 'rat,' as Tiejo had mentioned a few days later, to Ginger. His thoughts then strayed to something he himself had said earlier this very day, about 'esprit de corps.' He didn't even recall exactly where he'd heard that subphrase; probably in some book or graphic novel. Whatever the case, it sounded like what Captain Teach was describing. But now that he'd thought of it, he became preoccupied with figuring out where he might have read the phrase. Thinking of graphic novels, his mind wandered to Oni. Though this surely was not where he'd read the phrase 'esprit de corps,' it made him think of the Nihongo words he'd learned from it. 'Nakama' suddenly came to mind as the best example of what Teach was talking about, though he doubted it could be applied to so disparate a group as street rats, most of whom didn't even know each other, let alone think of each other as family. He started to think he must have been wrong about there being some subword to describe what Tiejo had meant about non-clans like 'Streetrats.' He shook his head to clear away his reverie, feeling embarrassed to have let his mind wander from the point of the discussion. He hoped the others would assume he'd been thinking about how to respond to the captain, then felt guilty about wanting them to believe something untrue, to think more highly of his powers of concentration than he deserved. He worried that his cheeks might start to redden in his shame, so he rubbed them, a nervous habit he found himself employing all too often.

Looking up, he said, "Well, yes, that is a problem. I understand completely." He sighed. "I'm not looking for miracles, here. Just let me know if you think there's any possibility of... establishing anything like a proper navy. It doesn't have to be remotely as good as the Order's Navy, but... just something that might take them by surprise, something that might prevent their victory in any sea battle from being a foregone conclusion."

Teach stared at Darius thoughtfully for a few moments, with a serious expression. It was all Darius could do to endure the man's gaze. Finally, the captain broke into a grin and said, "The situation's not as hopeless as I may have made it sound. There are at least a few ships like mine whose crews would be completely amenable to your cause, and others who are so nearly completely in agreement that the few dissenters would be easy enough to replace. In fact, there are always a few crewmen on almost any ship who never really fit into the family. And even if I say political views are a small part of what makes up an individual, it can often be part and parcel of their overall personality, which could be different from their crewmates' personalities in any number of other ways. So... I was just making sure you understood that what you suggested wasn't a simple matter, by any means. But neither is it impossible. Listen, I'm actually very interested in your proposition, it's just going to take some heavy thinking. And at the moment, being on shore leave, I don't have a great many demands upon my time. Hell, even at sea, there's ample time for thinking. For now, I'll see if I can find a few friends around town with whom to have some hushed conversations on the matter, and see what we can't work out. I know your name, so it should be easy to contact you via t-mail."

"Speaking of which," said Darius, "that's something LandOrder's working on for us. Setting up our own secret t-mail network that will only work with specially designed bubbles they're making. I'm sure I could get you one, or maybe a few."

Still grinning, Teach replied, "I certainly look forward to that. Always nice to be a part of something exclusive, be it a pirate crew, secret society, or what have you...."

"I know I've always enjoyed gaining entry to exclusive clubs," said Mr. Sharpblunt. These were the first words he'd spoken since saying 'Hello' when the captain had first introduced him.

Turning to the first mate, Darius said, "By the way, I meant to ask about your name, earlier."

"Pff," said the pirate with a wave of his hand, "it's not important. To tell the truth, my father explained why he'd chosen the name, years ago, but I don't remember it clearly, now. Even so, I've always thought the name sounded cool, and that's all that really matters. ...On a more serious note, I actually think raising a navy for the Chaos should prove easier than the captain thinks. Not that he's wrong about the problems inherent to the task, but... well, consider this: War comes with spoils. Old Earth pirates may have attacked other countries' ships, and left their own country's alone, or so I would assume. So it might be fun and actually beneficial to piracy to have more than one country, here on the Land. Might even make sense for us to become your damn navy... After all, piracy is in the eye of the beholder. As the captain mentioned, not all pirates are against the Order, per se, but if there were other countries, they could choose sides, instead of having to plunder legitimate merchant vessels and such. I mean, yes, their targets would be legitimate, but... they'd be the enemy, not citizens of the pirates' own government, you see?"

"By Jove," said Captain Teach, "I hadn't thought of that. Good point, man!"

Darius frowned. "Who's Jove?"

"Sorry," said Teach, "it's just an old Earth expression I read somewhere. Refers to one of their ancient mythological gods."

"Oh, okay." It never ceased to surprise him that Earth had had mythological gods. But it only ever took him a moment to remember that God had chosen not to make Himself as well-known on other worlds as He had on the Land.

"Anyway," continued Sharpblunt, "the point is that it's not so much political views we have to worry about. I suppose everyone has their own reasons for becoming pirates. For some it may be opposition to the establishment. For some, it's desperation. For others, it's a sense of adventure- and in that case, they may not even see what they do as strictly illegal. Or rather, they may begrudge the legal system for considering them outlaws, when they feel like land-based adventurers are allowed to get away with things that sea-based adventurers aren't."

"Well, I certainly don't tend to steal things from innocent people," Darius objected. "In fact, my father has always been a trader, and some of his goods have been shipped over sea routes. I'm not sure if any of it's ever been stolen by pirates, but I damn sure wouldn't appreciate it if it was. That's just not fair. Besides, there are land-based thieves who are prosecuted. It's not the same as adventuring." He suddenly thought of Marian and John, and gave a fake cough. "Um, not that... thieves can't be good people, on land or sea.... Anyway, please, continue."

Mr. Sharpblunt continued. "As I was saying, there are many reasons people become pirates. But we all have to accept that we're breaking the law. But some of us tend to differentiate between the law and the government. Even if we don't mind being at odds with the Coast Guard, we'd still like to consider ourselves essentially loyal citizens. Which we could do if we only stole from citizens of another country. So, your war could give us the perfect opportunity to eliminate this internal conflict. Ease our minds. And I think... there was a time in Earth's history when sailors considered pirates by one country might have been considered patriots by another."

"Come to think of it," said Dave, "it's not like this navy you want to form necessarily has to include solely people who are already pirates. Surely you could also recruit merchant sailors, possibly even some people from the Order's navy who have become disaffected with the government. And as there are always young people looking to start a life at sea, you might get some recruits who've never even been to sea, joining a brand new navy as their very first experience of the sailing life. Probably some such people never would have considered becoming pirates, but wouldn't mind joining a navy that supported a cause they believed in, even if most of the people in that navy had once been pirates."

"Ah, respectability," said the captain, in a tone which seemed equally wistful and hopeful. "How I've missed it!"

"...And then," said Sharpblunt with a grin, "as I said at the outset, war comes with spoils. Even if some pirates aren't interested in the political aspect, or whether they're called pirates or something more respectable, the important thing to some will simply be the loot, and the adventure."

As Darius contemplated all that had been said in the meeting, he suddenly realized out of the blue that he was growing hungry. He remembered that his uncle and aunt had gone to supper, and he wanted to do so, himself. But then he thought, Brynne had said 'suppah,' not 'supper.' And the restaurant was the 'Briny Lobstah,' not 'Lobster.' Those were the only two words he could recall her having mispronounced, but then he realized they weren't mispronunciations at all, but rather... an accent. He'd heard slightly different accents in some of the different villages he'd visited in his travels, but never really thought much about it. He was aware that on Earth, different accents were often far more... pronounced... than they were on the Land, even if he'd never actually heard Earth speech of any kind. Aside from a few musical recordings provided by spirits, and it was hard to make out accents in singing voices. But he'd read about accents, so he knew what they were. He doubted his subword sense could've... made sense of the word, though, without actually hearing such differences. He supposed that Shanty being a very new village, it would barely be beginning to develop its own unique accent, and he wondered if, in time, it would become much more distinct.

It was all this thought of accents that reminded him of the pirate stories he'd read, and how pirates from Earth traditionally spoke in a distinctively... pirate-like way, themselves. He mentioned this now, and wondered if Teach, or Sharpblunt, or anyone else they knew ever tried to emulate the speech of pirates from such stories.

Captain Teach replied, "People on the Land hear the word 'pirates' and think of stories from Earth, as you say. They think of people who lived hundreds of years before the Land was even created. I have doubts that real pirates ever talked like the ones in stories, but even if they did, that's not how people on the Land talk. I expect so-called 'pirate speech' evolved from the common speech of wherever they were from. Just as we speak the way people here do. And we're all just people, you know. Still, as you mentioned, I myself have noticed some people in Shanty starting to speak with a slight accent, especially the youngsters. People from away tend to retain their old style of speech."

"Huh. It's just, I only met my aunt Brynne today for the first time, and she's from... uh, as you say, 'away.' I don't understand why she'd even have a little bit of a Shanty accent."

"Well, tell me: what's she do?"

"She's a teacher," said Alyn, before Darius could speak up.

"Well, that explains it! If she's around youngsters all day every day, she's bound to pick up some of their habits."

Just then, there came a call of "Ahoy!" from off the port bow. They all went to look over the side of the ship, and swimming in the water below, they saw a trio of mermaids.

The captain waved and shouted, "Aye! Be right down, ladies!" Turning to the others, he said, "Come on, I'll introduce you to some old friends."

As they followed the captain down the gangplank, Darius once again thought about how fast everything had been happening since meeting Tom and Tiejo a few weeks ago. Not just vis--vis the Chaos, but also just about things he was doing or learning about for the first time. For example, he'd just met pirates for the first time, and now here he was meeting his first mermaids. He idly wondered if Tom or Tiejo had ever met merfolk before, and was particularly amused by the thought of Tiejo interacting with them. He wished the street rat was here....


chapter 31

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