Chapter 2

"The Ship"

Beneath the tree May carved off a piece of roast beef for herself and gave Digger the rest. She was starved and ate ravenously. How she could stuff so much food into that supple young figure was a mystery. Still, she'd travelled very far from the gloomy land of Hyperborea and down through the haunted forests of Carnage just to meet up with the pirates at the infamous Bay of Wolves. She was sick of eating berries and apples and fish.

A merry din rose from the drunken crowd and May wondered what could amuse such grim fiends. But then a minstrel in colourful tights scampered forth, carrying a lute. Digger growled, still gnawing his bone, but May hushed him. The minstrel bowed like a gentleman and introduced himself: “Ulysses, Esquire and Non Sequitur, at your service, madam!” He then reclined on the grass, propped up on one elbow.

He continued: “I heard that a Hyperborean girl was among us and had to see what one of you barbarians look like. I can't say I'm disappointed! But what brings you here, so far from the northern climes, dallying with these robbers and murderers?”

I'm gonna be a pirate,” said May.

Ulysses strummed a chord. “Fortune! Adventure! If only I had your mettle.”

May was confused: “You mean my dagger?”

The minstrel guffawed. “No, dear, I have one of those. I mean your reckless courage, your boundless spirit; for then, I would be master of my own destiny, commanding a ship laden with gold enough to sink it! Tell me, have you ever heard of the Hound?”

No. What hound?”

It's a small island, not much more than a rock, where few have dared to land. Most of the boats end up smashed to pieces on the rocks in those treacherous waters, and those who survive disappear into the jungle atop that rock never to be seen again, and their ship sets sail, with the crew shuddering at the almost palpable evil emanating from the isle.

Transgressors of the Pirate Code are sometimes sent ashore in a dinghy and marooned there – assuming they make it in one piece - and likewise never seen again, except for recently, when someone encountered a monster so hideous, he jumped in the raging sea and swam furiously, even rode the back of a shark, he said, to escape that foul place. A merchantman picked him up, and he died raving about the monster and a parrot. The crew thought him delirious, his story without merit, but some say the bird belonged to the great pirate Captain Crush, who plundered more ships a century ago than can be tallied, and legend has it he brought his hoard to the Hound, where he stashed it away. The captain must have discovered a safe route to the rock, to come and go as he pleased. Nonetheless, Crush was eventually captured and hanged for his countless crimes, his treasure's location a mystery.

There are piles of diamonds on that island, silver, emeralds and opals; coins spilling from wooden chests, magnificent swords in jewelled scabbards...”

Gilded swords?” asked May.

As golden as your flowing locks!”

And pearls?”

As white as your teeth!”

Sapphires and rubies?”

Aye, as blue as your starry eyes, as rosy as your tender lips!”

Where can I find this haunted treasure?”

My dear little snow-maiden,” he exclaimed, “such heart! Take me along and I'll face man or devil at your side, no matter the danger. I'm only a minstrel and a fool, but I've learned to take care of myself, travelling roads frequented by highwaymen.”

You need me to protect you, don't you?”

May agreed to take the minstrel to sea, for she was determined to board Captain Mundy's wicked vessel, there being none more infamous upon which she could make a name for herself. And so, she instructed Ulysses to meet her under the tree in the morning.

May had a dagger, and her dog Digger, but no sword. But only a few metres away a beastly-looking pirate was sprawled out on the lawn in front of a hedge, hand still clutching an empty tumbler, his tangled beard stained with ale. He was dead-drunk, and May stole up behind the hedge, reached through the branches, and slid the pirate's sword from its scabbard. He didn't stir.

May brandished the sword and was disappointed: the ivory grips on the handle were broken and loose, making it unwieldy. Still, it would have to do until she could win a new one. Having no scabbard, she slid it through the strap around her waist which held her dagger.

She and Digger found a secluded spot to sleep, and in the morning she met Ulysses, and made for the Gruesome. So many ships were anchored at bay that it took some searching before they found it, far down the shore.

Aside from the pirate ships, there were fishing vessels galore: schooners and cutters, dories and trawlers. There were pots of lobster everywhere, and cod was being unloaded from rowboats onto docks, where they were passed through a gauntlet of workers: headers, splitters, cleaners and salters. The fish were being washed, dried and stacked by others. Yet others were preparing bait, or mending nets and sails. Much farther away there looked to be a station for repairing ships, and, beyond that, a lighthouse, which May declared the tallest thing she ever did see.

There was Captain Mundy standing on the beach ordering his men about. The crew were loading supplies onto jolly boats and long boats to ferry to the ship: caskets of water, crates of rum, cloth for the sails, food, lumber and sundry items. Some of the boats were already being rowed to the ship.

And when May beheld the Gruesome she was awestruck. There it was, a great galleon, square-sailed with three masts, two rows of cannon poking out from both sides: “Scourge of the Rolling Sea”.

Mundy noticed that his men kept glancing behind him. He turned and saw May, with the minstrel walking in circles behind her, and Digger came snooping round the boats.

A rather large man standing in the water and bearing a heavy load addressed the captain: “Is that the little whelp you said was lookin' to join the Gruesome?” Laughter ensued.

Run along, lass,” said Mundy. “There's no place for you here.”

May drew her sword. “I'll take baldy's place,” she said, meaning the man who'd insulted her.

He threw his load into the boat and came sloshing ashore. “I'll feed her to the sharks!”

Mundy held him back. “Careful what you say to a Hyperborean, Sport.” By now the others had ceased working and were attending this amusing little spectacle.

I can make you rich, Captain Mundy,” said May, and as the captain seemed willing to indulge her, she continued: “You must have heard of the Hound?”

What of it?”

I know where Captain So-and-so's treasure might be hidden.”

The men were staring in awe, but Mundy wasn't at all convinced.

Captain Crush never told a soul,” said the pirate, “and he's been dead a hundred years.”

He did tell someone, but that's as much as I'll say!” May had a triumphant air about her that irked the captain.

You play a dangerous game, lass,” said Mundy. “But even if you and your minstrel can lead me to the treasure, what makes you think we can reach the rock without being smashed to smithereens?”

I'm willing to risk it, if you are,” answered May.

Mundy gazed at her in silence, contemplating, and Sport again interrupted: “Sir, you can't be serious...”

And what's in it for you, miss?”

My fair share. And maybe I'll buy the Gruesome from you; there's so much treasure, you might wanna retire!”

Minstrels hear interesting stories in their travels, Mundy knew, and are sometimes privy to court secrets best left unknown. He decided, reluctantly, to take them along. There were objections, with someone griping about the crew having to babysit “May of Green Gables and her dog, the Littlest Hobo”; but the captain's word was law, the protests quelled, and she and Digger were let in a jolly boat, and escorted across the foaming waves to the waiting ship.

Once aboard, May was content to observe the sailors as they performed their duties. The anchor was drawn up, sails were hoisted, rigging secured. May had never been to sea, or even seen it, and she felt thrilled when they were on their way. Digger, too, was excited, and wagged his tail as he watched the rolling sea through the bulwark.

The captain was brooding, watching the activity from the forecastle. Being an outlaw, it was in his nature to be suspicious, and he had to wonder if his new crew members could be trusted, or did they have an ulterior motive? In any case, they might not be around much longer. Some of the men, particularly Sport, had it in for May, and Mundy could see the fractious sailor, the best of his fighters, murmuring with a few other trouble-makers, no doubt protesting the girl's presence. But Mundy was determined to let this drama play out, this unhealthy tension between May and her adversary.

It happened. A few hours later, beneath a hazy morning sky, May was in front of the forecastle leaning against the ladder, fixing the grip of her sword with black tape, which she'd found lying about the deck.

Is that hockey tape?” jeered Sport. A number of the men laughed. May continued wrapping the broken handle, and Sport ridiculed her further: “Perhaps in Hyperborea they call that a 'gilt' sword!”

There was more laughter, and May, finished with her repairs, pointed the sword at Sport. “It'll be a guilty sword in a minute!”

Sport's cronies were laughing, but when the goliath ripped his weapon from its scabbard with such vehemence that he hammered one of them in the chest with the pommel, they knew he meant business!

Easy, Sport,” said one. “She's only a kid.”

May leapt forward, swinging down with all her might to split Sport's skull in two; he parried, but May's sword still managed to gash his bald pate. He shook flecks of blood from his eyes, and there ensued a whirlwind of action as the two enemies thrust, hacked and dodged. Sport's blows rained down heavily, and May thought her blade would shatter. But she was quicker, more agile, and only a minute had passed when her sword sank deep into that hairy chest. Sport fell backward, dead.

May left the sword where it was and picked up her opponent's sabre, admiring the craftsmanship of the hilt and knuckle guard while the entire crew blinked in astonishment. As no one made a move on her, she slid the weapon through her belt. In accordance with the usual procedure, Sport's carcass was thrown overboard unceremoniously, the sword still protruding from his chest.

Crane,” hollered Mundy to one of the men, “grab a mop and clean the deck!”

What? Why should I clean it up?” the man complained. “It ain't my blood!”

Mundy peered at him with his one good eye, and so infernal was his gaze Crane immediately set about his task with a shiver of fright.

May had won her duel with Sport fair and square, and so earned a place on board the Gruesome. She would have been charged with the most menial of duties, except that she had killed none other than the most feared fighting man under Captain Mundy's command, so the wretched scoundrel known as Crane had to continue operating in his lowly capacity. As for Ulysses, he proved to be an excellent sailor and made good use of himself at all times.

It was later that day that May went to Mundy with a most unusual request. “Captain,” she said, “I hafta go to the bathroom.”

At this, the captain was somewhat stunned: “What?”

I have to pee,” said May, a little more anxiously.

Then,” said the captain, “I suggest you take a whiz lee side!” and all within earshot laughed. But Mundy was already through with the cruel jest, and told May she could take a bucket below decks for some privacy. And as she climbed down the hatch he cursed himself for allowing a girl aboard his ship, a decision sure to end in calamity.

Within a few days, May had affected a more pirate-like appearance: a polka-dotted bandanna was wrapped round her head, an effective remedy against the burning sun; she wore a ragged red-and-white striped shirt which she'd crudely cut off at the midriff with her dagger, and the sleeves at the elbows; she'd torn open a floral-patterned pillow case at the seams and wore it as a short skirt, tied in a knot above her right hip; and someone named Arp had even given her a proper scabbard for her sword. He was the cook, and his was the kindliest face in that sea of scarred and murderous mugs, though not by much. Still, he gave Digger a hearty beef bone, and so was on good terms with the cur.

May now knew that the bow was the front of the ship and stern was back and starboard was right if you were facing for'ard; that stairways were always called ladders; that a yard was the spar across a mast which held the sails, and that the end of it was called the yardarm. She also learned that a heavy wooden peg she'd hit one of the men over the head with and knocked out cold was called a belaying pin and was used to fasten ropes.

By Gad, what now, girl?” roared Mundy when he saw the man sprawled on the deck.

He told the cook not to give Digger any more soup bones,” said May peevishly.

Mundy immediately called to the barrelman up in the crow's nest, telling him to come down. “You're the lookout, now,” he told May. “That should keep you out of trouble.”

Actually, May thought it would be good fun to be at the tallest point on the ship, and so she scampered up the shroud to the top of the middlemast and climbed into the crow's nest.


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