May the Hyperborean


Chapter One

Everyone knows there are a dozen moons orbiting the earth, and many of them can be seen day or night. The barbarians of Hyperborea, a misty land in the north, believe that a jester named Jasper juggles the moons in the sky. There were only two moons in the sky when May was born, and maybe that's why she's drawn to trouble like flies to a magnet.

One morning May awoke and peered out her window at the faint glow on the horizon. She put on her garment, a sort of fur bikini, strapped a dagger around her waist, and confined her golden tresses with a plastic hair band. She fastened a dog whistle to a thin vine and strung it round her neck, then called for Digger, named after Jasper's great dog who dug the craters on the moons where he buried his bones.

The young girl took up her favourite spear and journeyed southward through the forest. The morning sun extinguished the stars, and after crossing a river into the country called Carnage, May came to a gnarled tree. The trunk was colossal. Cradled in the branches above was a large tree house, superbly built, and from the walkway outside a rope ladder dangled down. Curious, May climbed the ladder, some thirty feet. A door was open and she crept in cautiously but stayed close to the entrance. She surveyed the single room which made up the interior: something was cooking on a pot-bellied stove, and a kettle faintly steamed. The floor buckled beneath a large table whose black top seemed to have been carved from one massive stone.

May started at the sudden sound of footsteps on the roof moving towards the edge, and something dropped down in front of the doorway! The apparition was shaped like a man, but the skin was all green, and the bat-like face made him seem like a living gargoyle. He wore a patch over one eye, and the other blinked – a yellow eye, snake-like and inscrutable. A ragged bandanna covered his head and a sash apparently held up the too-large trousers cut off at the knees. He grinned, baring rows of fangs, some of them gold.

May gripped the hilt of her dagger, but made no further move. She broke the silence with a nasty curse and said, "Who are you?"

"I once was a pirate on a ship called the Gruesome."

May's eyes lit up with interest.

"My name is Buckler." He eyed the dagger gleaming in May’s fist. "I can see you are a Hyperborean. There were a few of you barbarians among that motley mob on the Gruesome. I'm happy to meet you. Anyway, sit down. You're crushing your feet."

May chose a chair where her back would be to the wall, and she sat.

"Try my pancakes," Buckler insisted. He brought a stack of these over in a tin plate and slammed it down on the table with tremendous force. The plate came down so quickly that the pancakes hovered in the air momentarily.

"Where's the syrup?" asked May.

"Right here," the buccaneer replied. He picked up the kettle and, oddly, held it as high as he could reach while he poured the boiling syrup over the pancakes. The syrup overflowed from the plate.

"Too much!" shouted May. She tried to slide the plate closer but it wouldn't budge. "You make very dense pancakes."

"Perhaps a little heavy on the syrup." He returned the kettle to the stove. There was a metal fork on the table and May tried to pick it up, but managed only to slide it a little closer. She was baffled and frustrated, and Buckler burst out laughing. "Haven't you figured it out yet? The tabletop is carved from one giant lodestone. It's magnetic!"

He handed May a wooden fork and she began devouring the food. "Is there anything I can drink? I'm thirstier than a mummy!"

"I have a keg full of juice," said Buckler. He went to a trap door in the floor beside May and flipped it open. A beam crossed just below the opening, and two ropes tied to it led down to a well and beyond to the bottom. "This one is tied to the keg full of juice. It stays cool down there. And this one is tied to a bucket of water."

May volunteered to hoist the keg of juice, and she sat at the edge of the opening, feet braced against the beam. Hand-over-hand she hauled up the keg and set it on the floor. Buckler brought cups and poured the juice. May remained seated at the opening in the floor and drank, feet resting on the beam. "What is this stuff? It tastes funny, but it's good."

"Jupiter juice! It's made from the fruit of the tree we're in." Buckler paused and said, "So, what brings you upping and offing all the way here from Hyperborea?"

"I'm going to the Bay of Wolves to join with one of the pirate ships anchored there," answered May.

Buckler opened his arms wide to display all the scars on his chest and limbs. "Pirates have their own set of laws. As always, one of those bloodthirsty rogues will step forward and test your mettle to determine your right to join. Assuming you survive, you'll likely be swabbin' the deck to earn your keep."

May grunted. "Maybe. But there'll be adventures on high seas, and plenty of booty to divvy up on the shores of uncharted islands."

"What spirit! Well, I suppose you're going and that's that. But this is this: killin' ain't much of a livin', girl, and a restless soul looking for riches to pillage from wayfaring ships needs more than just intestinal fortitude to do the grim work!"

"I'm a Hyperborean!"

"Aye! Enough said!" Buckler took his drink in one gulp. "Listen: I'm presently working on a flying machine. It's being built from wooden crates and things I bought from a travelling freak show: a bicycle, a fridge, a TV, a clothes drier... Allow me a week and I can take you closer to the Bay of Wolves."

May's skin crawled at the thought of flying and she gracefully declined. Then she climbed down the ladder, followed by the pirate. When they reached bottom, May picked up the elaborately wrought spear and blew on her whistle, which could not be heard by human ears. In a moment, Digger came charging through the underbrush and growled. Buckler froze and the sweat glistened on his emerald skin.

"This is Digger," said May.

"I don't think he likes me."

"If he didn't, he would have gone for your throat. But a dog always respects a scornful eye."

Buckler carefully dug into his pocket. He pulled out some biscuits and fed them to Digger. "He can have some dog biscuits. Plunder from a merchant ship." May thanked him for his hospitality. Buckler grinned and tugged at the ring in his ear. "Plunder," he repeated. The pirate ate the last dog biscuit and watched with his yellow eye as May disappeared down the trail.

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