All was now set for smooth sailing for the short journey to Port Regal. Momentarily free from her duties, young Captain Anne Radcliffe walked over to where the pretty dog maiden sat on a barrel, sighing as she gazed into the distance. Anne sat down beside her.
“I am sure you will be glad to be home, Mabel,” Anne opened, uncharacteristically shy and subdued from feelings of guilt. After all, she was the one who had kidnapped Mabel, even with that young lady’s enthusiastic support.
“I suppose,” Mabel replied glumly, with another sigh. “I’m glad to be off Catbeard’s ship, anyway.”
“He did treat you well?” Anne asked sharply, suddenly concerned.
“Oh, yes, he was quite the gentleman. Not what I would have expected from a… a cat, you know.” Mabel sounded disappointed. “But it was so boring. All he did was tell me about his great adventures. And they sounded so exciting, but nothing happened while I was there. We just stayed in that dreary cave and ate herring. I am so sick of herring right now.”
Anne hid a smile. “I hope our dinner today then will be more to your taste,” she offered politely.
Mabel gave her an impatient look. “I would eat herring every day if it meant I could have adventures! My life is just so dull!” Her expression softened into wistfulness. “Are you sure you couldn’t keep me here and force me to become a villainous pirate?”
Anne suddenly felt ages older than the Marleybonean girl beside her. “Mabel, you wouldn’t like it.” She gestured over to where Subodai and Ratbeard were swabbing the deck. “Much of being on a ship is hard work. For instance, the timbers have to be mopped regularly to clear the moisture that seeps in from the lower atmosphere. If we didn’t do that, we would sink from the aether-rich upper atmosphere and drop through the clouds.”
“Then there are the battles. We can hardly sail anywhere without ships firing on us, either because they know there is a hefty bounty on my head or because they are simply suspicious of an unknown ship. We’ve managed to survive them all so far, but we can get fair battered. I hardly think there is a place on my person that hasn’t been clobbered one time or another,” Anne finished with a grin, which quite ruined her argument.
“I don’t mind work,” Mabel replied with the eagerness of one who has never actually done any. “I never get to do anything interesting. I love my father, but he thinks I am a delicate little blossom. I learn how to take tea properly, how to artistically arrange flowers, how to embroider beautifully… things that are ‘ladylike‘. I don’t want to be a lady -- I want to be like you!”
“Um, thanks.” Anne barely managed to keep from giggling at the backhanded compliment.
“I am sure I would love to fight with a sword and to be a pirate. Especially a villainous one!” Mabel finished.
Anne sighed. “Mabel, I am not a villainous pirate. I am wanted by the Armada and far from my homeland, so I had little choice but to become a pirate if I wanted to survive. I make a point of behaving as honorably and -yes- honestly as I can. But many pirates truly are villainous. I have fought against those who would murder you just to get the pretty clothes you wear, or murder just because they like to kill. And the Cutthroat shark pirates make a point of eating their victims!”
“Oh.” Mabel’s spirits visibly deflated. She traced a little pattern on the deck with her fashionably clad foot. “I would still like to learn how to use a sword, though,” she added very softly, to herself.
Anne felt a pang of compassion. True, Mabel was a very silly girl, but she had not the advantages of education and work that Anne had been given. And not so very long ago, had not Anne herself complained to her foster mother about "never being allowed to do anything"?
Anne smiled gently into Mabel’s downcast face. “You know, I do embroidery too.”
Mabel gave her an interested look. “You did the embroidery on your waistcoat?” For all her featherbrained ideas, Mabel had good powers of observation.
Anne nodded. “Yes. My mother taught me when I was little, before she died. She always told me: ‘Good with a needle, good with a sword.’”
Mabel’s face lit with sudden hope. “You would teach me to fight with a sword?”
“I can give you a few lessons, at least,” Anne amended. “You will have to hire someone when you get home to truly learn and make regular practice.”
“Oh.” Mabel’s face fell again. “My father will never let me do that. Girls don’t, you see.”
“Why not? I am a girl. Your father respects me.”
“Yes, but my father considers you a ’female’ -- not a lady, you understand.”
“Oh.” Now it was Anne’s turn to be thoughtful. “But times are changing. Catbeard believes that the hostilities between the Armada and Marleybone will erupt into outright war.” Assisted by my intervention, I’m afraid, Anne reflected with chagrin. “Marleybone’s colony of Port Regal will be especially at risk. I will tell your father that you should learn to defend yourself as…as your patriotic duty.”
Mabel perked up at that. Patriotism evidently would be a telling argument to convince the governor.
“After all,” Anne continued, “Catbeard had me slip you out of your father’s house just before the Armada came for you, as they intended to use you as a pawn against your father.” Another fiction by Catbeard, Anne winced inwardly with guilt. Though she did wonder if Catbeard‘s glib tale held truth, or if she just imagined it so to salve her conscience. “If you are able to fight against them, perhaps they would not take you -- at least you might hold them off long enough for reinforcements to arrive.”
Mabel smiled happily. She was sure Captain Radcliffe’s arguments would win over her father. She jumped off the barrel. “Would you give me a lesson now?”
Anne grinned back. “Let me get the practice swords from my cabin. And then-- en guarde!”
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