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Chapter 31
6 Sp'mo' (We'yetday)

1

It was only when they reached the end of the dock that they noticed the mermaids were topless.

"Shite," exclaimed Darius and Dave in unison, both quickly closing their eyes and turning away.

Dave said, "So, uh, listen, Dare, it's been fun. Hope to see you again soon, but... I, uh, gotta get out of here. Sorry, I just can't be around this kind of thing."

"Understood completely. You know I wish I could leave too, but I... I don't think I've quite completed my business." He sighed. "I have to stick around a bit longer. Dammit. But hey, I gave you a few t-mail bubbles, right? Stay in touch, okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, of course. Um, but, these aren't the network things, so... you sure they're secure? I mean, if I take one out and say 'Dave Road for Darius Lonewander,' could your enemies have some spell sitting around waiting to hear if anyone calls your name on any t-mail bubble?"

"They probably have spells waiting for the names of all known members of the Chaos, by now, but we're using red bubbles, the most secure type available to the public, and Cameron has enhanced the security coding personally. We should be safe for now, and even once we get the special bubbles LandOrder's making for us, I doubt there'll be that many to go around, so we'll probably still mostly use these...."

"Alright. Well, later, Dare. Alyn. Everyone..." And with that, he opened his eyes, but didn't turn to look at anyone; he simply walked down the dock to the shore, and headed into town. It wasn't until a few centhours later that he began to wonder how he'd get back to Triscot, though he didn't really expect it was important where he was. That's the good thing about being homeless, he told himself: you never have to worry about getting home.

Meanwhile, the mermaids were grinning, and the one in the middle laughed. Darius still hadn't turned around or opened his eyes. He called over his shoulder, "I'm sorry, I hope I'm not offending you or anything, but... I'm uncomfortable looking at anyone, even fully clothed. The less they're wearing, the more uncomfortable I get, so... I just can't look at you at all, I'm afraid."

Captain Teach asked, "You sure it's not just that you can't look at topless girls in front of your mother?"

Darius blushed and exclaimed, "God, no! I mean, that doesn't make it any easier, for sure, but it wouldn't matter if she wasn't here. Anyway, I know she wouldn't really care."

For her part, Alyn knew Darius was telling the truth, and she also knew that it could only make matters worse for her son if she tried to tell him it was okay. And pointless, as he'd already said he knew that. So she simply remained silent. Though she supposed she'd be uncomfortable looking at the mermaids, herself, if she hadn't been a physician, before the clan went into hiding.

"Alright, my boy," said Teach with a grin. Turning back to the mermaids, he said for the benefit of those who were looking at them, "Anyway, these are Astrid, Nerissa, and Rie. Ladies, you've met Flynn and Cara. Permit me to introduce Darius Lonewander, the shy boy here," as he said this, he clasped Darius on the shoulder, and Darius flinched. The captain removed his hand immediately, and continued the introductions. "This here's his mother, Alyn Lonewander, wife of Adam of Triscot. You've heard of him, I take it?"

"Of course," the three said in unison.

Darius was a bit surprised by the thought of merfolk knowing his father's name, but he supposed it wasn't all that strange. It's not like their kind had no contact with humanfolk. In fact, he thought he'd heard that merfolk had taken some part in the war, though he didn't know any specifics. At any rate, he spoke up at this point: "Um, I don't know if it's wise to be... sharing her true identity with people who haven't... joined our cause. She goes by Anne Veil, publicly, so I'd appreciate it, Captain, if you'd try to keep that in mind. ...And ladies, uh, I may not be in a position to make requests, but... please, try not to let anyone know she's alive. Or, really, try not to discuss me or any of my companions with anyone...?"

Nerissa laughed again and said, "If you look us in the eyes and repeat your request, we'll be sure to honor it."

"Uhmmm..." he sighed heavily, opened his eyes, and turned around. He was relieved to see that only their heads and shoulders were above water. Of course, he'd be nervous looking anyone in the eyes, ever, and moreso in this unusual scenario. He took a breath and began, "Please, ladies, I ask you-"

But the three of them burst out laughing and frolicking around in the water. Darius quickly turned around again, but at least forced himself to keep his eyes open. He rubbed his cheeks and frowned in confusion.

After a few moments, the mermaids settled down again and Nerissa said, "Sorry, I was just kidding. Don't worry, your embarrassment doesn't offend us, it just amuses us."

"Well," he said sternly, "I'm glad someone gets some amusement out of my condition. I mean, I'm sure most people would be embarrassed to talk to naked strangers, but it's worse for me. I wasn't exaggerating when I said I'm uncomfortable looking at anyone. It's... some sort of condition I have. I mean, psychological. It's nothing serious, it just impairs social interaction, to an extent. Once I get used to people, it's not so bad, but I'm never 100% comfortable looking at anyone, even family. So, yeah... naked people, I just can't."

The mermaids stopped grinning, and so did Captain Teach. "Sorry, boy," he said. "I didn't know."

"We're sorry, too," said Nerissa. "Of course we'll respect your request."

"Sorry," echoed Astrid and Rie.

For a moment, Darius's face remained hard, but then he allowed it to soften a bit. Not that anyone could see his face. But he also softened his voice. "It's okay, it's not like you could've known. Anyway, Captain, I hope this doesn't... lower your opinion of me. I mean, as a leader for... you know, what we were discussing." Glancing at Teach, he added, "I also hope... I mean, the way I flinched when you touched me a centhour ago... it's not just looking at people- or being looked at- that gives me trouble, but also touching or being touched. I can endure it if I must, and again, it's easier with people I've had time to get used to, but..." He sighed, and shook his head. "I'm sorry. I must seem pretty pathetic. I hope I get a chance to prove to you that these quirks of mine aren't so debilitating as to render me ineffectual as a leader, or anything. I am capable of hardening myself to a purpose, it's just in more casual situations, when things aren't so... immediately important... that I have trouble, really..."

The captain shook his head. "No, I'm sure it doesn't have anything to do with your intelligence or leadership abilities. On the contrary, it's a good sign that you were immediately willing to set your personal discomfort aside, and face the girls, if it meant protecting your clan's secret. I don't know exactly how hard that was for you to do, but... I respect you for it, just the same. And I believe you when you say you can overcome your discomfort in more serious situations."

Darius smiled a bit at that. "I appreciate that. Anyway... ladies, I... again, I don't want to disrespect your culture, or anything, and... really, it's none of my business, but... Well, of course I've read some Earth stories of merfolk, and I thought... your kind tended to wear some kind of tops, like... I dunno, seashells or something?"

They all laughed, and Astrid said in a teasing tone, "You mean tied on with seaweed straps?"

"Because seaweed is quite strong, you know, and there's no way it would just snap, or anything," added Rie.

This time, when Darius felt himself blushing, he didn't feel an overpowering need to rub his cheeks. He allowed himself to grin sheepishly as he said, "Well, I suppose you have a point, there."

"Anyway," said Nerissa, "shells are quite hard, not to mention brittle. They can break, and if they do, the edges get quite sharp. Even if they don't break, I'm sure they'd be terribly uncomfortable."

"And then there's sand to consider," said Astrid. "Wretched gritty stuff. If one got sand in their shells, I expect the chafing would be unbearable."

The other two nodded, and Rie said, "And I'm sure the swimsuits human girls wear wouldn't fit us. We just don't have the legs to pull off that look." She grinned, and the other two laughed.

"Well," said Darius, "as to that... I've actually heard that on Earth, some women wear two-piece swimsuits. It sounds dreadful to me- I mean, I'm not even comfortable looking at women in one-piece suits, and in fact even if you had been wearing tops, I'm sure it still would've been pretty hard for me to look at you. You'd still seem overexposed, to me. But still, I rather wonder if people here on the Land could make such suits. I do hope we haven't got any women here who'd be brazen enough to wear such things, but then again, it's not like I get to the beach much, anyway. Like I said, any swimsuits make me uncomfortable. And not just on women; I don't like seeing men underdressed, either. But whatever, I just think... if people at least made swimming tops for mermaids... I don't know, do you think there'd be a market among your people for such things? Or don't you even... care about being exposed?"

Nerissa said, "If you're asking if merfolk look at breasts in a sexual way at all, I'll remind you that our species originates from human stock, so our minds do work the same as yours, pretty much. There are definite differences between our races, sexually, and when Eric of Sorret and his associates were creating our race, they at least adjusted our psychology enough that we wouldn't end up... really missing what we lacked, if you know what I mean. I mean... of course there's some curiosity about how humans and elves do things, but... eh. It doesn't really bother us that we can't have sex, in the sense you people think of it. At the same time, Eric didn't want us to completely miss out on the fun of such things, so... he allowed our kind to retain physical attraction for our human halves. Merfolk definitely appreciate faces, torsos, arms and hands. And oh, the things we can do with our tail fins, let me tell you..."

Nerissa grinned while her friends started laughing again, as did the pirates. Darius blushed profusely.

After a few moments, the laughing died down, and Nerissa said, "Sorry. I really don't want to embarrass you, it's just too easy, though. The point is, we feel the same way humans do, but... we just have to live with it. And Eric knew this would be the case, so while he allowed us to retain our physical appreciation for anatomical features, he also... well, toned down our tendency toward embarrassment, somewhat. Gave us all a higher tolerance for... no, I'm not saying this right. Um... it's more like our... libidinous feelings are under our conscious control. We may be aware, when looking at someone, if we find them attractive or not. We're aware of things we'd like to do if we let ourselves, but... if we don't let ourselves, then... it just sort of isn't an issue. I mean, we just don't really think about it... I think it's called 'compartmentalizing.'" She shrugged. "I'm no expert on psychology or biochemistry or anything, so that's the best I can explain it. Anyway, no, I don't think there'd be a market for swim tops."

"Besides which," said Astrid, "I still think sand might get in there. And this might not seem like it'd be an issue for people who live in the water all the time, but there's the question of... what's the word? For washing clothes?"

"Laundry," said Darius.

"Right. The question of laundry. You might think living in the ocean would take care of that, but I assure you, if we did wear any clothes, they'd still need to be, uh, laundered."

"Oh, I know," said Darius. "It's not like humans don't launder their swimsuits after wearing them in the ocean. Or pools, or spas, or wherever they wear them. But anyway, um, maybe we could change the subject?" He couldn't help but wish he had the sort of control over sexual thoughts that the mermaid had been explaining. At least, he was pretty sure he got what she was saying; it wasn't quite his ideal situation, but it certainly sounded a lot better to him than the way human sex drives worked; not that humans weren't also capable of a certain degree of such compartmentalizing. And of course, unlike on Earth, no Landian would seriously consider acting on attraction unless they had genuine feelings for someone. But he didn't dwell on that for more than a couple of seconds, as he had just suggested changing the subject. So, he took a deep breath, turned to face the mermaids (and was once again relieved to see that only their heads and shoulders were above water), and said, "Since you're here, I was thinking... your people were on the side of the Protestants during the Coming, right? Oh, and by the way, now that I'm looking at you, perhaps you could reintroduce yourselves, so I can match names with faces?"

"I'm Nerissa," said the voice which had done the most speaking. She was on the left, now, from Darius's perspective, though he thought when his group had first come down to meet the mermaids, she'd been in the middle. Yes, because she had red hair, he definitely remembered a redhead in the center, for the brief moment he'd seen them before swifly turning around, that first time.

Then the girl in the center said, "I'm Astrid." She had hair that was more platinum than Emma's, or rather, Darius thought, almost silver. Definitely longer than Emma's hair; in fact, all three of them, he noticed, had longer hair than most human women he'd ever seen. He thought that must get inconvenient, when swimming undersea; it must get caught in seaweed or coral and such. He thought of asking them about it, but decided he'd already allowed himself to get too sidetracked, and wanted to force himself to stick more to the point, for now.

The third girl, who had dark brown hair, said, "And I'm Rie." It was at this point that it occurred to Darius that they all had lovely speaking voices, and he thought of stories of mermaids' singing; both in Earth and Landian stories. He wondered if these three did any singing, and thought he'd love to hear it if they did. He also began wondering what it would sound like underwater, and if Eric's team of Sorreters had adjusted their physiology in some way to adjust for water's muffling effects, perhaps some trait that was related to how they managed to breath underwater. He couldn't see any gills, and he certainly didn't doubt that they had humanlike lungs, so it was all very confusing. He supposed it must be explainable by the magic that had been used to create the merfolk race, though all magic was technically based in science, so he was curious how- but he shook his head, reminding himself not to let his thoughts wander so much. Still, he thought he should ask Cameron sometime if he could explain it.

Meanwhile, the mermaids were floating there before him, smiling sweetly, waiting for him to say something. "Um, so, yeah. Hi. Pleased to meet you all," he said with a slightly nervous wave of his hand. Then he looked down at his hand, had one of his frequent mini-panic attacks that last only a moment or two, unsure what to do with his hands. As usual, he ended up clasping them behind his back, though even this felt awkward to him, and he supposed soon enough he'd be sticking them in his pockets. And then feel weird about that, as well. God, I hate myself, he thought, but immediately dismissed the thought. "Anyway, about the war...?"

"Well," said Astrid, "we three weren't much more than guppies, at the time, so we weren't personally involved..."

"You all look about my age," said Darius. "I was a bit young to fight in the war, but I'm sure there were kids my age who took some part. Surely you must at least have been aware of what was going on... unless merfolk age at a different rate than humans?"

Astrid laughed and replied, "Well, 'guppies' is an exaggeration. I do believe we age at the same pace as you. So, yes, we were in our early teens."

When Nerissa spoke, Darius noticed that she was no longer grinning. "In fact," she said, "my older brother, Cedric, joined the Marine Corps, which had just been formed by merfolk to support the Protestant Navy... which, of course, was itself just about as newly formed." She was quiet for a few moments before adding, "He died within a year of enlisting."

"I'm sorry," said Darius somberly, while Astrid gave her a little hug from the left, and Rie swam around to hug her on the right. Again Darius's mind wandered to physiological questions, as he noticed that Nerissa was shedding a few tears at the memory, and he wondered if merfolk's tears were salty as human tears, and what it was like to cry under the ocean. Of course, he hated himself for having these random thoughts, when he felt he should just be feeling sympathy. Not that he wasn't sympathetic...

The moment had soon passed. Nerissa wiped away her tears, though it hardly seemed necessary, considering the three of them were of course completely wet from swimming. Darius noted that once again, Nerissa was in the middle of the group, though the other two were on different sides than they had been when he'd first seen them. He shook his head, and was about to speak, but Nerissa spoke up before he could say anything.

"Well, it was a long time ago. And I... well, what happened to your own clan is well known." Glancing at Alyn, she said, "I'm glad to learn some of you still live. Of course we won't tell anyone, as we said before. But... I'm glad. Still, I'm sure at least some of you must have died in the war, right?"

Alyn nodded. "Some of us, yes. Too many." Darius avoided turning his head to look at his mother; if she was shedding any silent tears of her own, he didn't want to see it.

After a few moments, Darius said to Nerissa, "I would imagine there are a number of ways a loss such as yours could make one feel about war. And of course, there are any number of factors beside that loss that could influence one's feelings... As for myself, I want vengeance. Even though I've discovered many of my relatives are still alive, my desire for vengeance is not diminished. Not just for those who really were killed, but also for the years I've lost with those who are still here. Years I'll never get back. But... it's more than just my family that concerns me. There are many things about the world that I want to change. The Order... well, I can't deny that it's done a lot of good. But it's also done a lot of ill. I suppose some of what I would do, there would be those who called it good and those who called it ill. Of course no one can agree on every point of what's good or bad, in life. But I truly believe that the way I'd make things, combining the good I saw in the old world and the good I see in the new, eliminating the bad I see in both worlds... on balance, I believe the world I fashioned would be better than either one. And so, as much as I might hate the idea of war, sooner or later I think I will have to start a new one, against the Second Order. Like I said, I could understand if you feel differently... if your loss makes you hate war so much that you'd never want to get involved, for any reason. Or, perhaps you're like me, and your loss would make you seek vengeance...."

While Darius was trying to choose his next words, Nerissa said, "Honestly, I don't think my brother's death, or the deaths of anyone who any of us knew, would have that much of an effect on our attitude towards war. Of course it's a horrible thing, but people know the risks when they get involved. Which means they must have a damned good reason to make that choice in the first place. I miss my brother, and we all have loved ones who died, whether friends or family, but I don't regret his having fought in the war. I believe he was right to make that choice. It's true what you say, both good and bad has come of the Order's changes to the world, and I still wish we would have won the war. And if you're planning on starting a new war, I wish you the best of luck. But if you're asking us to join you... First of all, I should say that none of us, I mean the three of us here, are the military type. We personally wouldn't get involved, nor can we speak for our people in general. I mean... we're not leaders, or representatives, or anything. We're just normal young women, with normal, everyday concerns. Normal jobs, normal leisure activities, normal lives. But while we're not in a position to make plans with you, nor even deliver a message on your behalf to those who are in such a position, I can at least tell you this: I very much doubt my people would be able to join your cause at this time, for the simple reason that we're already in a war of our own. I don't follow the news much, I mean our news, nor do I know how much the human news services report about merfolk affairs, but... you should know we're at war with the kappa."

Darius stood in stunned silence for a few moments. Then his mouth opened slightly, but it was another moment before words even formed in his mind. Finally he responded, "Kappa? Wait... we actually have those on the Land? I've read some stories about them, but I wasn't aware they were one of the mythical creatures that Sorreters had actually created, here. Anyway, are they even intelligent? Can you really have a war, per se, against unintelligent creatures? I mean, the only intelligent creatures I've ever heard of are humans, elves, and merfolk...."

"They're officially classified as 'semi-intelligent,'" said Astrid.

"Ah. Well, that's another thing... you know, not so long ago an associate of mine was talking about an ogre he once knew, and... I guess they're also considered semi-intelligent. And I've heard of others. Obviously there are both unintelligent dragons and so-called 'I-dragons,' the 'I' standing for 'intelligent,' though technically even they are considered semi-intelligent. And there are maybe some others that don't spring to mind. But to be honest, I've never really understood what 'semi-intelligent' even means. It seems to me a being is either intelligent or it's not." He rubbed the back of his head and said, "I dunno, maybe I should ask Cameron about it, later..." Lowering his hand, he added, "I mean, unless you know the answer."

Astrid said, "Um... I always sort of assumed it was about the war. I mean, the only beings who took part were humans, elves, and merfolk. Maybe if some of the others had gotten involved, the Order would have had no choice but to recognize them, I mean, grant them equal rights and all." She shrugged. "Everything's political, but I don't really follow politics."

Captain Teach shook his head. "Actually, lass, the classification system came along many years before the Plan was even conceived."

Astrid looked at him quizzically. "What's 'the Plan'? I never heard of that." She glanced to her right, but her friends just shook their heads. Then the three of them turned to look at Teach.

"Ah, well, that's what the Coming was all about. The First Order had this big plan to bring about the Second Order. It took them seven years to formulate the plan, and another seven to carry it out. And war was always part of their plan. It's ironic," he said with a grin and a shake of his head, "but everyone who fought against them, by virtue of our fighting, became their pawns. Because they had planned for us to fight them, all along. Which it's quite possible some of the founders of the Protestant Movement knew all along, themselves, while others of us didn't learn the whole truth til later. But either way, what was the alternative? To refuse to fight? The only thing that would have accomplished would be to allow them to accomplish their goals sooner than they anticipated."

Nerissa frowned and said, "Well, it also would have saved a great many lives."

Teach's smile fell away, and he sighed wistfully. "Aye, that's true. But it would have cost those who lived more, in a psychological way. Most of us would have felt defeated in a more palpable sense than we did when we actually lost. It would have been as if we'd lost our very souls."

"Still," said Darius, "there'd be more of you left to join the rebellion I'm planning."

Turning to Darius, the captain replied, "I think not. They'd feel defeated without ever having done anything. They'd have no spirit. And yet, not having fought and lost the war as well as their comrades, they'd have no one or nothing to avenge. Besides which, they'd have had no contact with one another, if no Movement had ever formed, so now how would anyone know who to even approach? The survivors know who their allies were. True, the Order also knows who most of them were, and in spite of the amnesty they were granted, I'm sure they've been watched. But less so with each passing year. Anyway... I'm sure there are some they don't know about, but... the right people do know. Had there been no war, though... no one would know anyone. On top of that... if your own clan still lived, and you'd never lost those years with them, as you mentioned before, would you now even have any reason to think of starting a rebellion at all?"

"It's impossible to say. There's much I'd hate about the Order, even if they hadn't killed my clan. And it's impossible to predict how things would have gone... I suspect we would have lost a great deal of our former wealth and influence. Even if my clan hadn't taken up arms, they still wouldn't have exactly played by the new rules. But our rivals would have, and so things would have gone more smoothly for them than for us." Turning to look at Rune, he added, "Our entire clan might eventually have ended up in the same situation as Rune, here. Though I suppose it would have taken longer, since we had farther to fall. No offense."

"None taken," said Rune. "On the other hand, it's possible some of you might have been deemed enemies of the state, if you spoke out against the Order, or refused to follow certain laws. At least I've avoided that... even if I'm rather ashamed to have done so. I wish I had spoken out."

"Well, perhaps you'll have your chance, if you join us. Meanwhile," Darius said, turning back to Teach, "I think you were going to explain the intelligence classification system."

Teach smiled. "Indeed! My old friend mentioned, back at the pub, that I was once a wandering master, though I don't believe he mentioned my particular field. As it happens, I was a teacher of history, and I've rather missed having occasion to ply my old trade. So then, let's see... where to begin? Sorret, of course, was founded in 271, though it wasn't until 539 that Mor of Sorret first conceived of the creation of mythical creatures. For many years, few non-Sorreters were even aware of this, though eventually enough explorers or adventurers had reported encounters with creatures they'd read of in Earth stories, that people actually began to believe there might be some truth to the reports. In 595, a scientist named Emil, from First Village, began talking to colleagues from various villages, with the idea of organizing an expedition to seek out mythical creatures and prove once and for all whether they truly existed. However, the expedition never occurred, because when he contacted a colleague in Sorret, the Magic Academy decided to reveal the truth to the world.

"And so, a list of every type of creature the Sorreters had created was provided to Emil, which he disseminated to the rest of the scientific community of every village. And a rule was established that from that point on, any time a new species was created, it would have to be reported to the World Science Council. Roderick of Sorret ignored that rule- and by the way, it's important to stress that it wasn't an actual law- in 752, when he began his secret project to create elves. When the original fifty elves turned 21, in 773, they asked Roderick if they might finally go into Sorret and meet other humans. Until then, of course, they'd spent their whole lives hiding in Sorret Forest. Grand Sorreter Cazzul was a close friend of Roderick's, and was therefore deeply insulted that his friend had never shared this monumental secret with him before. It's generally believed this was the real reason for the actions he took, though of course officially he had to have a better excuse for banishment than what he felt was a personal slight. But, what he claimed did have some merit. There was of course the nearly two-century-old rule that Roderick had broken, but as I said, it wasn't really a law, so no legal action could be taken. Besides which, it's not like his secret had been discovered; he exposed the truth himself, as he had never intended to hide it indefinitely. However, Cazzul claimed that the creation of a fully intelligent race by humans was an abomination against God. Blasphemy. So he went to Arch-bishop Prax-"

"Wait," interrupted Darius. "I thought... there were semi-intelligent creatures before elves, so... was it really that big a deal? Had no one called it blasphemy when other species had been granted intelligence?"

"Ah, I was going to come back around to that point, but since you ask... There had of course been some ethical debates before the first time so-called 'semi-intelligence' had been incorporated into the genes of mythical creatures. When Mor and other Sorreters first began creating new species, they started fairly small, but once they felt they had a firm grasp of what they were doing, they soon started thinking bigger. One of the most popular types of mythical creature from Earth stories has always been dragons. And I should mention, there were different kinds of dragons from different regions of Earth, though my knowledge of such things is rudimentary. I mostly just know a bit about things that touched on Landian history, so the details are fuzzy. But it's not important. The most common type of dragons on the Land are of a European derivation, which I don't expect to mean anything to you. But you've probably heard various stories from throughout Earth's history which are set in various countries, which were all part of the continent called Europe. You've probably also heard various stories from other continents, but geography isn't important. Sorry, I get sidetracked sometimes.

"Anyway, the point is, the first dragons were created in 550, if I recall. Most of those early, unintelligent dragons now live in the forest known as Dragon Wood, not far south of the Northern Alliance. Though there are other, smaller clusters elsewhere, most notably eastern First River Forest; that's where most of the Asian-derived dragons live (Asia is another of Earth's continents, of course). Well, it was around 575 when someone- whose name escapes me, I'm afraid- first started talking about how in some Earth stories, dragons were intelligent, and could even speak. So he wondered if it might be possible to give enough intelligence for that kind of thing, I mean some limited vocabulary, to mythical creatures in general, and dragons in particular. So, as I said, there was some debate about it. But apparently, a group of Sorreters talked to a group of spirits, who said it might be arranged, and probably wouldn't be frowned upon. After all, it's not like the Sorreters would be creating intelligence from scratch; of course only God could do that. Rather, they incorporated human intelligence into the creatures, with the spirits' help. Until this time, most non-intelligent dragons still lived around Sorret Forest, but the newly created I-dragons weren't comfortable with them- which is understandable, as I'm sure we wouldn't be comfortable around human animals with no intelligence- so eventually the older dragons were relocated to the areas I mentioned before, and the I-dragons remained. Not that some don't like to go off exploring the world, but even the more adventurous I-dragons prefer to spend most of their lives close to home. They tend to be friendly with Sorreters, more than other humans, so I hear. But generally I think they keep to themselves. At any rate-"

"Sorry," said Darius, "another question. If human intelligence was bred into the I-dragons and other creatures, wouldn't that mean... humans had to donate genetic material? I don't really know anything about genetic engineering, but... well, I assume there was no actual... interspecies mating involved." Teach grinned and shook his head. He appeared about to speak, but Darius quickly continued, "And I don't need to know the details of how it works, but my question is, wouldn't the donors have thought of the new creatures, to some degree, as their own offspring?"

Teach looked momentarily surprised, then thoughtful. He stroked his beard and replied, "Well, that I don't know about. It never really occurred to me, and it's not something that was covered in any historical texts I ever read. It's an interesting question, but I suppose it would have been a more personal matter. Maybe your Sorreter friend would know. And I'd be interested to learn the answer, if you can find out."

Darius nodded. "I promise, I'll let you know." With a sudden grin he added, "At least, it would be a simpler matter to get in touch with you if you promise to join my cause."

"Well," said the captain with a grin of his own, "you already promised to get me one of those special t-mail bubbles LandOrder's cooking up."

"Oh yeah," Darius said sheepishly. "So much for my attempt at bribery."

"Besides which, surely all the information I'm providing you at the moment is at least as valuable as that one nugget you might be able to repay me with, later. I mean, back in my teaching days, I didn't exactly give away history lessons for free, you know."

"Well, in that case," said Darius, "shouldn't we all be paying?"

Before Teach could respond, Rune chimed in with, "Oh, never you mind about that. He's enjoying himself far too much to expect payment. It's not like history is his profession, anymore; it's just a hobby these days."

"Anyway," Teach said with a roll of his eyes, "back to what I was saying. The I-dragons were the first mythical creatures to be given intelligence, and it seemed to go well enough. So over the next several years, others were created, including gryphons, harpies, and unicorns... though gryphons and unicorns can't speak, which is a bit awkward; at least they understand human speech, and I've heard they are somewhat telepathic, though I'm not sure if that's true or not. Regardless, by this point, spirits were no longer greatly involved in the integration of genetic sciences into the magic of creating new species, but there was still some call for them to provide details of the fundamental natures of the species, or rather of the lore about them on Earth. Though, mind you, there were some things that simply couldn't be reproduced on the Land exactly as it was in myths. That's one advantage fiction has over reality: it doesn't matter if a thing is impossible, as long as it can be imagined. There are, for example, no such thing as shapeshifters on the Land, because there's just no way, as far as anyone knows, to do such a thing in reality."

"What about glamours?" asked Alyn.

"Ah... well, that wouldn't quite count, would it? I mean, if creatures wore some sort of magical cloak or something, it wouldn't be an inherent part of their nature. I suppose they could be taught to use magic, and cast spells on themselves... though that could only be done if they were intelligent, and if there are any creatures on the Land that are supposed to have the ability to shapeshift according to Earth legend, then they're not among those that have been created with intelligence."

She nodded, "I guess that makes sense."

"Anyway, shapeshifting is just one example of how our mythical creatures aren't always exactly as they appear in mythology. Another is the fact that Sorreters are limited to the genetic material of creatures that God actually created on the Land. Like, we don't have horses, so our unicorns are derived from striders. Which is why, if you've seen one, or even a picture of one, they don't quite look like any pictures you've ever seen of Terran unicorns. On the other hand, we have some naturally occurring animals that are more similar to certain mythical creatures than any animals on Earth are, a fact which Sorreters found both ironic and useful. Some have even argued that it might be proof that God always intended for people to create certain mythical creatures, while others say that it wouldn't explain why He chose not to create animals here such as horses. Which leads to the question of whether He intended us to create some mythical creatures and not others, and whether the existence of things like unicorns are against His will. But all that is academic: we don't know His will in this matter, we just know He hasn't forbidden it. Meanwhile, regardless of whether or not He has an opinion, the fact is such creatures do exist, so it's rather late to worry about it now.

"Anyway, it's interesting that dragons were easier than many other mythical creatures to create very much in the familiar image- or images- from Earth lore. As I said earlier, Sorreters already knew about the different types of dragons from different regions, and it wasn't that hard for them to replicate the different species here, using creatures that already existed on the Land. But speaking of such regional differences, they'd given surprisingly little thought to the fact that different regions also had their own unique mythical creatures, and most of those so far created on the Land- intelligent or not- had been of European derivation. So, toward the end of the 570s, they started asking spirits specifically about creatures from the lore of other continents, the most popular ones being Asian. Wanting to create some non-European intelligent creatures, they started with kappa, though this soon led to problems-"

"Obviously," said Nerissa.

"Aye," continued Teach, "though of course the problems with them started long before the creation of merfolk. The thing is... well, various mythical creatures that had already been created had the potential to be dangerous. Dragons, intelligent or not, as well as harpies, and unintelligent creatures like manticores or kelpies, to name a few, could all kill, but the intelligent ones had either a sense of camaraderie with their creators, or else sense enough to know they couldn't survive long if they made enemies out of humans, who were far more organized and populous than themselves; while the unintelligent ones... well, Sorreters had sense enough to relocate them to unpopulated areas. Kappa, however, were another matter. Once released into the ocean, Sorreters pretty much lost the ability to track them, unless by divining or scrying, and it would be too draining to constantly expend their energy on such matters. The same problem already existed with other sea creatures such as kelpies, but the fact that kappa were intelligent made the problem exponentially worse. They quickly learned to stay away from Sorret, and moved to other coastal villages or rivers. They were also cautious in their attacks, so that there were no survivors to report their existence. They were of course eventually included on the list I mentioned earlier, but that didn't come out til fifteen years or so after kappa were first created.

"At any rate, after that, Sorreters decided two things: One, that it was too dangerous to create intelligent mythical creatures anymore; and two, that it had probably been an incredibly foolish idea in the first place to create creatures that were inherently dangerous by their very nature. And it was especially foolish to make creatures that were both violent and intelligent. So, though there was no rule against the creation of mythical creatures until Arch-bishop Ignico banned it in 811, and the earlier trouble over the elf matter in 773, which I hadn't finished explaining before you made me backtrack... there was, by 580, a prevailing attitude among most Sorreters that no further intelligent creatures should be made. And a nearly universal feeling that only relatively docile non-intelligent creatures should be made, though there was some debate about how, if they were going to bother creating mythical creatures at all, they had to take the bad with the good. Especially considering how much of Earth's supernatural lore was about creatures that caused trouble for humans, and the fact that various stories were actually conflicting as to whether such creatures were good, bad, or neutral, not to mention the fact that it would be wrong to consider an entire species inherently good or bad, as evidenced by the human race itself. Most of the creatures that were made from that point on, like qilin, kitsune, tanuki, etc., were benevolent at best, and mischievous at worst. It was in 602 that the only other really dangerous (but unintelligent) beasts, chupacabra, were created, in response to the ogre threat-"

"And what made ogres a threat?" asked Darius.

Teach sighed. "I said that by 580, most Sorreters agreed not to create intelligent creatures, but in the year 600, a mad Sorreter named Xerxes- who, by the way, was named after an ancient Earth king whose father was named Darius- created an army of ogres in secret, in the Drop Lake Mountains. Well, he had of course begun this project years earlier; it was only in 600 that his ogres were old enough, and fully trained as warriors, that he made their existence known. History records 600 as the year they were created, but of course this is inaccurate, as historical texts often can be, especially when the truth isn't known. And it's impossible to say exactly when he began this secret project. He kept no records and undoubtedly would have offered up no information even if he'd been captured alive. It's speculated that he actually created them about eighteen years earlier, in 582, but there's no way to be certain. The point is, he tried to take over the world."

"Um, so how come I've never heard of this? Granted, I didn't spend much time in school before taking early graduation exams, but I would have thought it'd be hard to miss something like that in history class."

"The truth is, you wouldn't find this in Order-approved history books. The Council of Magicks did its best to cover the entire matter up, though it's possible to learn all sorts of pieces of generally unknown history, if you dig in the right places. Anyway, Xerxes never got far in his plans before the other Sorreters learned of it, and managed to defeat him, without any help from other villages. They did get some help from I-dragons, however. And in 602, chupacabra were created specifically to attack ogres. And so, eventually, all-out war was averted, though Xerxes was never found- at least not at that time. In 617, Sorreter chupacabra-herders who still lived in those mountains, always on the lookout for possible resurgences of ogres, reported back to Sorret that they'd sighted new creatures, which later turned out to be goblins. They were smaller than ogres, but still fairly strong and apparently more cunning. So a team was sent out to search the mountains, to preempt any possible attempt at a second war breaking out. I should mention that Xerxes had cast an anti-scrying spell over the entire mountain range, during his first attempt at world conquest. Well, as it turned out, he was, in fact, the one who'd created the goblins. But ironically, the Sorreters didn't end up having to do anything much to stop Xerxes this time, as his new army didn't get along with his old one. Ogres started their own war against the goblins, and Sorreter scouts saw Xerxes get himself killed in the initial skirmish between the two races. They later recovered his body and translocated it back to Sorret, and the matter was considered closed, once and for all. The existence of ogres had been reported to the WSC in 601, though the details had been left vague. Certainly the then-ongoing war was never mentioned. And the same held true for goblins, in 617. So both races are on the official list of mythical creatures, and adventurers who have visited either the Drop Lake or Kimrin Mountains have encountered ogres or goblins- the latter only in the former range- but it's fairly rare, as both races tend to keep to themselves. There are still chupacabra-herders in both mountain ranges, but it seems clear that neither ogres nor goblins have any interest in starting a war against humans. Or at least, they have the sense to know they couldn't win, as I said before about I-dragons and harpies. And even if they wanted to rise up against us, they'd be too preoccupied fighting each other."

"Wow. That's pretty incredible. But um, what about the Kimrin ogres? There are no goblins up there, right?"

"True, but there are orcs, and neither ogres nor goblins trust them. I wouldn't say there were open hostilities between orcs and the other two races, but..." he shrugged.

Darius narrowed his eyes. "I've never even heard of orcs existing on the Land. Are they even from proper Earth legends? I thought they were just made up by Tolkien, a fiction writer in Earth's 20th century. Anything made up at that point shouldn't really be counted so much as mythology, but just, you know... fiction."

With a grin, Teach replied, "There's no rule that limits Sorreters to designing only creatures invented in Earth myths from before some particular point in time. In fact, they've even made a few creatures from the myths of other worlds besides Earth, as well as alien creatures from some of Earth's 20th century science fiction. Anyway, all myths were merely fiction in their earliest incarnations, even if they were from oral stories with no particular author, rather than written ones. I have no idea whether this writer you speak of was the first to coin the term 'orc' or not, but even if he was... if you could read his books, so could Sorreters."

"If you say so," said Darius. Immediately afterward, he thought, I'm glad neither Tom nor any of the others heard me say that. "Anyway, where did the orcs come from? And why should there be animosity between them and the ogres and goblins?"

"I'm afraid I don't know the answer to those questions. I just know that they appeared sometime later in the seventh century, in the Drop Lake Mountains. Apparently, something happened that caused the orcs and most of the ogres to migrate to the Kimrin Mountains, while the goblins and a few tribes of ogres stayed behind. There's been some speculation among Sorreters that there was a war, but if so, it was all over before their scouts were even aware of it, let alone of the existence of orcs. The first they saw of them was when the migration began, in 666."

"Hmmm. I'm sure Jasp would be interested in hearing about this. He mentioned the ogre migration, but nothing about orcs. When you were talking about Xerxes, I thought... well, he'd mentioned someone who wanted to use ogres to take over the world, and said it was related to the migration. But now I'm thinking, given the time difference, maybe there was someone else with a completely separate plan..."

"Could be," said Teach. "Once again I ask you, if you ever find out more about this, please let me know. Meanwhile, the whole secret history involving Xerxes was a large part of what contributed to the official classification of 'semi-intelligence,' more than a century later. Which brings me back to the story of Roderick, Grand Sorreter Cazzul, and Arch-bishop Prax... And, now that I think of it, I'm actually glad you interrupted me, before. I suppose it does make sense to have established the earlier history of mythical creatures before getting to this point. Aside from the matter of ogres, goblins, orcs, and chupacabra, Sorreters stuck to their self-imposed rule against creating intelligent or dangerous creatures, from 580 on. It should also be noted that once any given species started reproducing on its own, Sorreters stopped breeding that species, themselves, and concentrated on new ones. Actually, by the latter decades of the seventh century, the creation of mythical creatures was falling out of fashion. Of course, succeeding generations of Sorreters would learn a bit about genetic engineering, but by Roderick's time, it had become rare to specialize in it.

"As you no doubt know, Cazzul gathered his supporters among the Sorret Council, and went to Monab to appeal directly to Arch-bishop Prax to take action against Roderick. Ultimately, Prax said he could take no official action, and left the matter in Cazzul's hands. So the Grand Sorreter banished Roderick and the original fifty elves from Sorret. They could have simply moved to another village, but Roderick knew the Sorreters could make trouble for them anywhere they went, so they decided to simply sail to an uncharted island and settle their own village, separate from the world of humans. And nothing was heard from them again, until they joined the war, on the side of the Order, in 903."

"I've never really understood why they were on the Order's side," said Darius, "though my friend Emma- she's an elf- tells me there are plenty among her people who disagreed with that decision."

"No doubt that's true. As for why those in charge joined the Order, it's... complicated. One might easily say they were tricked by Durell, but then again, it's not at all clear that anything he said to them when he secretly contacted them was actually untrue. Their choice could very well be seen as fully justified, however ironic it might seem on the surface." Shaking his head, he continued, "But that's neither here nor there. The important thing, as pertains to the subject at hand, is that when Cazzul went to Prax, he informed him of the actions of Xerxes, over a century earlier. They discussed the rule Sorreters had set for themselves in 580, and how the matter of the ogres and later the goblins seemed to prove they'd been quite right to stop creating intelligent creatures. Granted, elves weren't dangerous, at least no moreso than humans... but even that fact led inevitably to the point that elves were far closer to humans, genetically, than any previously created mythical race. They were nearly indistinguishable, in fact, which brought the question of whether humans had the right to create a sentient race into much sharper focus. No firm decision was made about that, but the discussions the Order had, even after Cazzul had banished the elves, led to the intelligence classification system. It was obvious, of course, that humans were fully intelligent... and based on the research Roderick had submitted to the Sorret Council when he first came to his friend Cazzul, expecting acceptance, it was apparent that humans and elves should be able to interbreed. And in the years since the Second Order was established, and humans and elves began freely associating, that has been proven true, so I've heard...."

"What about humans and merfolk?" Darius asked, then suddenly realized it was a stupid question. He blushed, and said, "Uh, never mind. I forgot we don't... have the same parts...."

The mermaids giggled at this. Captain Teach grinned and said, "True. But for that one little detail, our DNA is compatible. We might not have the means to naturally mix the ingredients, but the ingredients themselves should be able to work together. In fact, it's quite likely that in laboratory conditions, perhaps just with an ordinary obstetrician and no involvement from Sorreters, well, a cross-breed might be achieved. Though it wouldn't be much fun," he said with a wink to the mermaids, who once again giggled. "...And it also probably would be ill-advised. No telling what the offspring would be like." With a dismissive wave of his hand, he said, "But that's also... well, it's not entirely to the point. Or not the only point, I should say. In fact, it didn't even become a consideration until a few decades later. It was in 774 that talks within the Order culminated in the classification system, and of course merfolk weren't created until 807."

"810," corrected Astrid. "Eric, Grand Sorreter Nyza, and a whole team of Sorreters began the project officially in 807, but the first merfolk weren't actually created until three years later."

Teach nodded. "Quite right, sorry. I'm used to reading figures in history books, and as I said, they can be inaccurate about details like that." With a grin he added, "Or sometimes, the reader can have an inaccurate memory about such details. At any rate, unlike the elves, mermaids were not created in secret, but with the full knowledge of the Sorret Council and Arch-bishop Darren. And even before the final success of the project, merfolk had been added to the classification system as fully intelligent, even it was merely theoretical at that point. They became the third race on the Land to be so classified, after humans and elves. It's kind of funny that the elves themselves had no idea that this system existed, or that they were classified as the Land's second fully intelligent race, until many years after the fact.

"Anyway, as I was saying before, it's not just that elves look mostly human, and merfolk look about half human, whereas no other mythical beings look more than vaguely humanoid at best... No, wait, I misspeak. Harpies look about as human as merfolk do, anyway. But their DNA, as far as I know, isn't quite compatible with ours, which is another point. The criteria for intelligence classification were various, and all criteria had to be met by a given species to qualify. One was a matter of appearance, which is actually pretty ridiculous, and to be honest, I don't think much of anyone takes it all that seriously. Another is a matter of reproductive compatibility with humans, and to be fair, elves and merfolk are the only ones that meet that criterion. It makes more sense than looking human, but it still has nothing to do with intelligence. The ability to speak is another criterion, which I daresay gryphons and unicorns might object to..." He grinned wryly as he added, "Unfortunately, the inability to speak rather precludes the possibility of speaking out." Getting serious again, he continued, "But there are various mythical creatures that can speak. And I mean, hold intelligent conversations, not like a parrot or something."

"But doesn't that definition itself prove intelligence categorically?" asked Darius.

"One would think so, aye. But you have to understand the mindset that those involved in the establishment of the classification started from. The whole point was that they wanted, or in their minds desperately needed to refute the intelligence of any race other than humans. It was impossible for them to do that with elves; even without any representative of that race present to argue their case, enough people had interacted with elves during the brief window between their coming forward and their banishment, that there was absolutely no question they were fully intelligent. However, very few people outside of Sorret had ever actually met any of the other intelligent races on the Land. Just a few random adventurers, basically, and they were well known for embellishing the stories of their own adventures. Certainly no one from Monab had ever met such creatures. In fact, considering how long it had been since any new species had been created, even most Sorreters had never met any intelligent creatures, with the possible exception of I-dragons and gryphons that still lived around Sorret Forest. And as I said, such creatures tend to keep to themselves."

"But wait," said Alyn. "For a matter as serious as this, don't you think there'd be some requirement of due diligence? Wouldn't the people establishing the system have to make a genuine effort to go out and actually talk with the creatures whose fates they were deciding?"

"An excellent point, and you're right, of course. But the point I was making was, I repeat, that they wanted to classify as few races as possible as fully intelligent. They could very easily have said any creature they talked to, or in the case of unicorns found some other way to demonstrate their intelligence... were on the same level as humans. But since that was precisely what they were trying not to do, the very fact that the one indisputable criterion worked against them was what made them work harder to come up with as many criteria as they could think of in favor of the conclusion they'd already foregone. ...Hmmm, I don't think I turned that phrase quite properly. But you know what I mean. So, in order to disprove any other species' full intelligence, they started thinking about the things that might make people judge humans to be intelligent. There's civilization, for example... society. It does seem that any one species does stick together, but then again, that can be said of unintelligent animals. Which makes it unclear exactly which side of the argument that criterion actually supports, though it's important to realize that they weren't just looking for points in favor of their decision. They also wanted points in favor of classifying species as intelligent, specifically so that it would look like they were being objective. Still, civilization is a pretty broad term. The fact is that most species don't build villages, or even houses of any kind that are recognized as such by human standards. They don't, as far as we can ascertain, have laws for governing their own kind. Obviously they can have wars of their own, but humans take little notice of that, as long as it doesn't affect human society. Besides which, unintelligent animals can fight amongst themselves, even kill each other. Then there's the question of using tools, which begs the question of what exactly can be defined as a tool. Lots of clearly unintelligent species can find simple uses for objects they find in nature, like rocks or sticks.

"Anyway, the list goes on and on; I'm sure I couldn't remember half the criteria, let alone the arguments made about each point to determine its value, and whether meeting that criterion means anything at all. But suffice to say, in the final analysis, the system they established does an exellent job of utterly confusing the entire issue, while simultaneously looking intricately thought-out and conclusively proving that only two- and later three- species meet every criterion, while others meet a sufficient number to be classified as semi-intelligent. Any reasonable, open-minded person who gives it any real thought at all can see it's absolute shite, at least that's how I feel about it. But... from what I can tell, none of the species that are classified as semi-intelligent- assuming they even know about it- none of them seem to really care. That's the great irony of the whole thing: only the races that are called fully intelligent are in any way affected by the system, and therefore they're the only ones who have any interest in the matter."

Everyone was silent for a centhour after Teach had finished his lecture. Finally, Darius turned to Nerissa and said, "So... would it help your war effort if I could get your people a large supply of cucumbers?"

Alyn looked at her son with a baffled expression, while the other humans present burst out laughing.

The mermaids all grinned, and Nerissa replied, "Um... I think we're good, thanks. I know that kind of thing might work in Earth stories about kappa, but I'm afraid it doesn't work like that on the Land."

Darius grinned, but let out a sigh of mock-disappointment. "Oh well. I had hoped I might help end your war, so you could help with mine. I suppose there's nothing I can do, after all. But I wish your people luck. And if I do manage to take care of my own problems, and you all are still at war when I do, I'll try to look into giving you some aid, if I can."

"Well," said Nerissa, "I appreciate it. But again, the three of us are in no way personally involved. And anyway, I think the Order is actually helping somewhat. I mean, technically we're citizens of the Second Order, just like humans and elves, even if we are left mostly to our own affairs. Considering humans can't really, you know, go under the ocean, or anything. So... I imagine if you start your own country, or whatever, they probably wouldn't object to our associating with you. As long as we don't, like, secede, or anything."

Darius nodded. "Yeah. Well, it's been great meeting you, but... we do have to be getting back to Triscot soon."

"Okay, nice meet you. Good luck. Bye."

She turned and dove underwater. Her friends both waved and said, "Bye-ee," then followed Nerissa.

Darius turned to Teach again and said, "Anyway... it really has been an honor to meet you, as well, Captain. I know you haven't made any particularly definitive promises to me as yet, though I believe you said you'd talk to some friends...."

"Aye," said Teach, "that much at least I can promise you." Clasping Darius on the shoulder, he added, "Son, I don't know how much help I can be to your cause, but I do want you to know I think this rebellion of yours sounds like great fun, and you've made me more hopeful than I've felt in years." He let go of Darius's shoulder and said, "I know you have some doubts about yourself, and while I did a bit to try to allay those doubts earlier, I want you to know I understand; you're not completely wrong. No one's perfect, you know, we all have our flaws. And one of the things I find most annoying in life is when people try to convince me I'm wrong to see a flaw in myself that I know damn well is there. There are some things we may never be able to change about ourselves, not completely, no matter how hard we try. The important thing is to keep trying, and not let ourselves feel too overwhelmed. Don't ignore your good qualities by concentrating exclusively on the bad. But more importantly, never forget that you're not in this alone. Whether I join you or not, whether I find other pirates to join you or not... you have friends, you have family, you have capable allies. If I join you, in fact if much of anyone out there joins you... it won't be for your sake. Your role, as I see it, isn't so much as a leader, as it is a catalyst. Inspiring hope... that's all you really need to do." With a wry grin he amended, "Well, it's the biggest part of it, anyway. Some planning, some action, some luck... that's all needed, too."

"Thank you, sir. Really... thank you. Your words mean a lot to me." He extended his hand, and Teach shook it.

"By the way, while those lasses have no contact with other merfolk who might be of help to you, the same can't be said of me. In fact, when I was in the Protestant Navy, I worked closely with the Marine Corps, as might be expected. And it was through Cedric, rest his soul, that I met his little sister Nerissa, and later her friends. I still have contacts among some merfolk of action, and after I head out again, perhaps I'll look some of them up. No promises, mind you, but... there's always a chance something might come of it."

"Well, thanks again."

Turning to his cousin and his mother, he said, "So, Anne... it's not my place to suggest this, but I think it would be a good idea for Cara to come back to the estate with us, spend at least the night. She should meet my friends, and be involved in our discussion tonight. And maybe join us when we see don Amalgamator again."

Alyn smiled. "Of course, she's always welcome." Turning to Cara she asked, "Well, what do you say? Care to come home for awhile?"

Cara mirrored Alyn's smile as she said, "Of course! It's been too long since I've seen everyone, and the Woodsorrow's gonna be in port for a week or so. So there's nothing stopping me."

"It's decided, then," said Darius. Turning back to the pirates, he said, "Captain Teach, Mr. Sharpblunt. Good evening, and I'm sure I'll be in touch soon."

"Aye. Take care, lad."

"Bye," said Sharpblunt to Darius. Turning to Cara he said, "Don't stay away too long, kiddo."

"Never," she said with a grin.

With that, Darius turned and walked back to shore, with his companions close behind. A sudden thought struck, and he stopped and turned to call back to Teach, "Oh, thanks for the lesson. And if I ever have a son, I'll be sure not to name him Xerxes."

The pirate laughed, and Darius grinned as he turned again and started on his way back into Shanty to find Tom and Tiejo....


chapter 32

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