This story is only sixty-one days long. So, including today and the final day, there are just five days left. Which makes this the last “Story so Far” entry.
WORSE THINGS HAPPEN AT SEA
1 August. 8am
Sun. Pain. I cracked open my eyes and saw land. ‘Sol!’ I said.
‘CAPTAIN Sol,’ she said – and crumpled.
‘We’re saved,’ I said. ‘Right? SOL!’
Sol awoke. She sat up, unsticking her tarred hair from the deck of our stolen boat. ‘We’re sinking.’
I leapt overboard and swam to save us.
I wanted to drink the sea, but I swam. The waves flung me upside down and the sea darkened as I drowned.
Sol grasped my neck.
I passed out.
August 2. 12 midday
The sizzle of frying eggs woke me.
‘Yep,’ said Sol to a bald man beside us, ‘nasty pirates coming. Best hide your treasure. We’ll help.’
August 3. 8am
We ate bread and wine and milk, and a yellow fruit that tasted like chocolate. It was fun, pretending to be good.
I got a stomach ache.
August 4. 3pm
Treasure, I discovered, is heavy. But Sol wore a girlish smile so I didn’t say a word.
The locals thought we were just kids. But we weren’t.
August 5. 9am
The bald elder missed his jewels, so our good times ended fast.
‘Ulandin,’ Sol grinned, ‘don’t waste our loot on food. Let’s steal a ship.’
A beggar took pity on me and gave us his crusts to gnaw. ‘I’m called Oldy,’ he said.
Sol said, ‘Ulandin’s my first mate. Wanna be our crew?’
Oldy sang songs until the harbour guards left. We chose the best ship and crept past its crew into the hold.
‘Great,’ I said, ‘we’re stuck.’
August 6. 4am
The crew was dull with sleepiness. Oldy rose like a grey ghost in the bridge.
Sol used magic to fell three men. The rest ran for help.
Oldy said, ‘Sol’s a quickener? She moves objects by just touch?’
‘It’s common enough.’
‘Not at sea. It’s bad luck.’
‘Sol’s used to that.’
‘The guards have swords,’ I said.
Sol said, ‘Want one?’
‘I want to go.’
She quickened the ship. We sailed away with every sail still closed.
August 7. 11pm
Sol slept, so we drifted. The sun weighed heavy on my shoulders.
‘At least I wasn’t a slave,’ said Oldy.
I said, ‘We both escaped.’
August 8. 7pm
The ship’s old owners left tasty food in it – salted meat, squishy fruit and lots of crackers. Also rum.
Maybe I drunks a bit too muchness.
August 9. 10am
Sol magically bellied out the sails. We were all surprised when we started going backward.
I tried not to laugh.
Sol broke my tooth anyway.
August 10. 6pm
Sol delighted in the burning wind and sun and the constant desperate clapping of our sails.
‘Look,’ said Oldy. ‘Is that a ship – or land?’
August 11. 6am
‘It’s a ship,’ I said at first light, ‘so do we meet them – or do we run?’
Sol picked at her tarred hair and said, ‘Let’s take their crew.’
The wind tore at my eyes. Sol yelled, ‘Trim the sails!’ I actually thought she meant to cut them.
Oldy suddenly knew how to sail – somehow.
‘Pink!’ Sol screamed. ‘Stupid pink sky! And why is that ship still running?’
‘We’ll get them,’ I said.
‘Or they’ll get us,’ said Oldy.
August 12 – 7am
‘Sol – Captain Sol?’ I said. ‘Hit me if you like, but there’s forty of them and three of us. And Oldy’s. . . old.’
‘Poor them,’ she smirked.
The wind dropped and we caught them.
They laughed at us. I longed to hide behind Oldy.
Then Sol arose, grabbed a rope, and swung across.
‘Do you surrender?’ she cried.
They grabbed swords, but she still had her magic.
Their ship shattered.
‘We’re sorry miss!’ they wept.
August 13. 7am
‘A captain goes down with his ship,’ said Sol – and tied him to his mast. His ship screamed as it sank.
He screamed as long as he could.
August 14. 8am
I said, ‘I’m afraid of her – but I know I’m made to follow her. Are you the same?’
‘No,’ said Oldy. ‘I’m not afraid. And I’m following you.’
August 15. 8am
‘Stop cowering,’ Sol told our new crew, ‘I dislike it. Now, hows about we attack a real target – like an island. Who here wants to be rich?’
I asked Oldy why he was following me.
He said, ‘Sol has you. Now you have me.’
‘Everyone needs someone. I of all people know that.’
August 16. 3pm
My back and wrists ached.
The sword tutor asked, ‘Will this island have women then?’
He cheered and toasted Sol – with my rum.
August 17. 8:30am
A man muttered something to his crewmates while Sol was out of sight.
I crept up and grabbed his arm.
He shrieked – EXACTLY like a girl.
August 18. 11am
‘But you ARE a girl,’ I said.
‘No I ain’t.’
‘Don’t the men know?’
‘Coz it ain’t true,’ she said, and picked her nose at me.
I gave up.
‘Li’s a girl,’ I told Oldy.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘she’ll be fine.’
‘How could anyone know that?’
He smiled, ‘I’m much older than I look.’
August 19. 5:00pm
Sol cheated at lessons, using magic to bend the swords – then the teacher.
Luckily Oldy was a healer. ‘Kindly stop breaking arms,’ he said.
‘Wanna be free?’ Li asked.
I said, ‘Sol already freed me.’
She hauled on a sail: ‘Do you really think that?’
I tied a knot: ‘Don’t you?’
August 20 – midnight
Night wind and stars. I shadowed men to Sol’s cabin, and yelled when they pulled out a knife.
She killed two in an eyeblink.
The rest fled.
I threw the bodies away, knowing Li had led them.
Sol and I kept watch in silence all night. Oldy slept on in his cabin.
I dreaded the dawn.
Sol judged us at dawn. Li confessed, and Sol threw her overboard.
The men vanished below like dust swept up.
But I saw Oldy steal the boat.
August 21: 7:00am
Oldy sauntered in and helped himself to salty breakfast stew.
‘Didn’t you go with Li?’ I asked.
He shrugged, ‘I came back.’
‘Who stole my boat?’ Sol screamed.
Oldy raised his hand. ‘You’re a fine captain. We won’t need it.’
Sol said, ‘You’ll live – for now.’
August 22. 5:00pm
I showed Sol our hold. She said, ‘We still have food for – what – two days?’
‘About that,’ I said, ‘and we’re out of soap.’
August 23. 2:00pm
We reached land, searched empty houses, and found a child’s skeleton clutching at dirt.
‘Anyone want to leave?’ Sol said.
August 24. 2:00pm
The sun glared on something, and we sailed for it: a pirate ship.
‘Hurrah,’ said Sol, ‘they’ll have food AND treasure.’
The ship chased us.
I forgot my sword lessons and punched and bit. The real pirates slashed my arms and legs. We lost badly. Sol’s face was black with rage.
Sol ran her hand across the bars of our cell – tink, tink, tink. No-one else moved.
‘They’ll feed us soon,’ she said. ‘Then we’ll attack.’
August 25. 9:00pm
I woke slumped against Oldy’s fuzzy beard. Sol was gone. Only our bodies held us up. Then Sol appeared with her arms full. ‘Anyone thirsty?’
Sol brought us food and life all night. Our guard almost saw her, but she passed magically through the outer wall of the ship until he left.
August 26: 5:00am
‘Do we fight now?’ I asked.
Sol said, ‘Anyone got a sword? No? Never mind. Oldy – come.’
We waited in silence, and heard nothing at all.
Sol said, ‘They’re all asleep.’
‘A healing sleep,’ Oldy said, ‘which I wish I had time to give you.’
We scoffed pie before we started work.
We locked the pirates in their filthy cell. Then we stole their cannons, food, and water. And soap. And all their boats. And LOTS of rum.
August 27. 1:00pm
Sol sat on the bowsprit in the dashing spray, frowning. ‘Why, when we won, did half our crew desert?’
‘They’re afraid of you.’
I saw girls playing on a beach as we drew close.
‘Let’s attack some other island,’ I said hastily. ‘People with kids never have much loot.’
Sol politely traded a silver necklace for anchorage. She ordered our remaining crew to be good – no stealing, no killing – not yet.
I bought new clothes! Ones with no holes! And I bought myself a bright yellow hat, so I look nautical.
If only the ground would stop moving.
No crew returned. Sol said, ‘We’re it? A princess, a beggar and a slave?’
I said, ‘Princess? Who’s a –you?!’
‘NO!’ she said. ‘I- shut up.’
One man turned up.
‘Hello Mal,’ said Sol. ‘Where’s everyone?’
‘Fine,’ she said, ‘let’s burn this place and find a better one.’
Sol saw kids in a corner and had me take them outside. Once they were safe, we burned their home too.
The night sky turned grey with smoke.
I could still see the smoke as we sailed away. At least we hadn’t killed any kids.
Sol was content, even when Mal burnt our dinner to ashes.
‘If you’re following me, does that mean you’ll help me – if things get bad?’
‘Yes,’ said Oldy.
After that talk, I was able to get to sleep.
‘Why are all the islands here so black?’ Sol grumbled.
Oldy said, ‘When we take over an island, what will we do with it?’
‘Anything I want.’
Sol and I practised swordfighting, and I noticed her hands were soft.
‘A princess ain’t much,’ she growled at me, ‘just a slave in a dress.’
Rain poured until my clothes were rough as rocks. We sailed, but we couldn’t see. Sol made us stay on watch – staring into the stormy dark.
Water spilled into our cabins and slicked the wooden floors.
Oldy paced the hold as the ship staggered. ‘It’s not time. Not yet,’ he said.
At last I found my guts.
‘What do you know about this?’ I shouted at Oldy above the howling wind.
He said, ‘I know we all survive tonight.’
September 5. 9:30am
The wind threw me into a mess of ropes and I was trapped. It tossed me around and dunked me under waves. A rope slipped around my neck.
Sol slashed through the ropes, saving my life again. ‘Lazy sod,’ she yelled over the thunder, ‘come help throw the cannons overboard.’
We threw away our weapons and our food, but Sol kept her treasure. The lightened ship flew over the ocean. We hurtled deeper into the dark.
September 6. 6:00pm
Rain. Hail. Rope burns on my arms and chest. Can’t see. Can’t eat. Can’t think. All I can do is hold on until the end. If this ever ends.
The sky was lit by stars instead of lightning. I hung out all my clothes, and asked Oldy how he knew we’d live.
He said, ‘I always know.’
September 7. 7:00am
We lay in the sun and slept. Sol was naked, so I was careful not to look. Oldy snored.
When I stood, my shape was outlined in dark wet wood.
‘We were blown into unfamiliar seas,’ said Sol, ‘so I bet there’s a REALLY rich island nearby.’
‘Sol,’ I said, ‘look – land!’
The locals wore purple and carried gold on their wrists and necks.
‘This is the place,’ said Sol.
Oldy and I exchanged glances.
We practised sword work below decks, out of sight of the people we spied on. Their guards were fat and sleepy, and the houses left unlocked.
Oldy didn’t speak to me, but I knew he was ready. And I knew he was more than he seemed. He frightened me more than Sol – who scared me too.
A boy asked Sol for food.
She looked at him. ‘You want gold?’
‘No,’ said the boy, ‘just bread.’
‘Be one of us,’ said Sol.
‘Okay – captain.’
The forgotten children came to us one by one – dark-haired, dark-eyed, and ready to fight as Sol’s army.
Oldy sang to them as night fell.
Sol taught the kids swordwork. One of them slashed her belly open – then cowered in fear. ‘Get up, kid,’ said Sol, ‘Red looks good on me.’
Kids kept cutting one another while training. ‘Can we just fight with knives and rocks, like usual?’ one asked, scratching his bloody chin.
Sol and I watched the harbour. ‘That ship’s better’n ours,’ said Sol, ‘so when we rule here, I’m gonna make it mine. The blue one’s for you.’
‘We’re under attack!’ Sol yelled. I ran to save the kids, but by the time I reached them our attackers had fled – bleeding and afraid.
Night fell over two rows of fighters – the guards standing between us and their island, and our own vicious pack lined up on our port side.
‘Signals,’ said Sol.
I asked, ‘To who?’
‘To our other ships, of course.’
We signalled instructions all day. I don’t even know what we said.
Finally most of our guards had left – to find our imaginary fleet.
‘Now?’ I asked Sol.
‘No,’ she said, ‘I want them more afraid.’
The horizon was red with fire, and the air tasted bitter with smoke. Our kids came back from their missions grinning and scorched.
All the guards went to save their homes. We anchored off-shore. The guards returned black-faced with ash and rage.
‘Tomorrow,’ said Sol.
September 21. [dawn]
Oldy stayed on board. We all rowed to shore in three boats. The few quay guards crowded one another, falling into the sea for Sol to kill.
Sol said, ‘See that house on the hill – the one with the turrets? That’s where we’re going.’
‘Yes captain,’ I sighed. Oldy was far away.
The kids ran ahead up the winding road, fighting anyone that got in our way. By the time we reached the castle, no one remained but us.
Sol ordered a throne of gold, and we made it.
‘Bring me a slaver,’ she said.
We brought one – and she stabbed him.
Sol killed, and killed again. No one seemed to know why any more. Bile rose in my throat.
Oldy remained at the ship, so I was alone.
‘Kid, what’s your name?’ I asked.
‘Take a message. Tell Oldy to draw Sol away from here – somehow.’
Hin ran straight to Sol.
I didn’t sleep or eat. The kids patrolled the streets, mockingly calling for me. ‘Come out, come out, Ulandin. Captain wants to see you.’
I climbed onto a roof to sleep, but Hin saw me. Four more kids came running – but I had a sword. I slashed their legs and left them cursing.
Even the guards served Sol now, so I couldn’t take a boat. I crawled down the beach and swam like a sea-snake toward the distant ship.
I heard shouts and swam faster, gulping water. The kids laughed and threw rocks. One smashed into my shoulder, and my arm stopped working.
Oldy dived into the water and saved me.
‘Burn the ship,’ I whispered.
He said, ‘Aye, aye sir.’
We fought two kids, and the rest let us go.