Toldare the Dark One scrutinized his gazing ball with undying curiosity. Meddling, manipulating, ensnaring, entangling, eavesdropping, snooping, and spying on people of interest was the infamous Sorcerer’s preferred past-time, and he was well-equipped for the task. Today his curiosity was piqued. The Star Flyer was in Nacapa and that was most peculiar. Curiously, the ship was the finest in King Otto’s fleet, but so very far from Albaland.
Aboard the ship was a woman whom Toldare recognized. She was of Nobility and he noted the stiff formal manner in which she walked from the ship to a waiting carriage. Toldare gazed into the ball searching the surrounding port. To his delight, he noted that not only was the Star Flyer moored in the harbor but so was the Sea Dragon. That ship was piloted by none other than Captain Dakar, a known opportunist. Toldare suspected the pirate smelled a magnificent fortune.
Deki peeked from through the balusters of the second floor balcony. Light flooded into the foyer downstairs as Senor Madeira cracked open the front door. A gust of hot, midday salty sea air rushed upwards into Deki’s face. Visitors were a rare event in the Madeira’s household. In fact, Deki could not remember when anyone had ever dropped by.
“Go back to your room,” Senora Madeira scolded as she brushed past Deki. Wearing a fine dress with high heel shoes and black stockings, she was intent on making a fine impression on whoever was visiting.
Deki dashed into his room leaving the door cracked open so he could listen. He had celebrated his tenth birthday a few weeks earlier and already his blond hair was beginning to darken. He never thought it odd that his skin tone was pale by comparison to the Madeiras. He had known for some time now that the Madeiras were not his parents. Deki’s younger brother Hanta still had very blond hair. In any case, Senior Madeira always insisted that their hair be kept short. He was quick with the scissors as soon as either boy began looking the least bit scruffy. Hanta had green eyes whereas Deki’s were more brownish. Both boys were slim, but Deki was just starting a growth spurt and had shot up several inches taller than Hanta in the last year. Hanta was after all just a bit over a year younger.
As soon as Senora Madeira had gone down the narrow staircase, Deki tiptoed back to the balcony to peek. Still in the room, Hanta was different from Deki. He had always been the one who tested the Madeira’s patience. Emotional, defiant, sullen, and often temperamental, Hanta was not one to remain silent. He was angry now and becoming very distrustful. They had both been dressed up in fancy clothing that was terribly hot, itchy, and uncomfortably stiff. Something was going on and neither of them knew exactly what.
The evening before, Senora Madeira had packed two heavy wooden trunks with everything that belonged to the boys. Tucked into the top of the trunk were silhouettes of Senor and Senora Madeira that had been framed in ornate gold-leafed frames. An envelope with a fancy wax seal had been slipped in behind the silhouettes. Senora Madeira was sniffling and it was clear that the boys were going somewhere. But everything was hushed over as the truth was being deliberately withheld. After bedtime, Deki had peeked in his trunk. The letter was addressed to him, curiously he slipped it back in place without opening it.
For Deki and Hanta, it was no secret the Madeiras were not their parents. The boys had lived with them for the last eight years. Usually when the boys were being troublesome, Senora Madeira would make mention of other places and sometimes other people. But then she always became very tight lipped afterwards and never explained anything to the boys.
Deki watched from between the balusters as Senor Madeira welcomed a tall, elegantly dressed woman and a short, fat, oddly dressed man into the house. Senora Madeira greeted them and politely showed the two visitors into the next room. The parlor was a stiff formal room the boys were not allowed to set foot in except on special occasions. Those occasions were as rare as were visitors.
Deki squatted down hiding himself from Senora Madeira’s view. Her footsteps clacked on the downstairs hallways as she set off toward the kitchen. She was acting particularly odd today and kept sighing every time either Deki or Hanta were within sight. One moment she was in tears and then the next she would snap, telling them to go back to their room. They would be called when the time came, she insisted.
Senora Madeira’s footsteps sounded again as her high heels clattered on the hardwood floor. She was returning with a tray of refreshments for the guests. Deki slid back from the balcony hiding from view again while Hanta peeked out from behind the bedroom door.
The men were talking loudly. To Deki it was clear that the strangers had come for them. Business was being discussed.
“The boys have never been much trouble,” Senora Madeira said. “The sound of footsteps in our house has been joyful.”
There was a rustling sound and then the oddly dressed man said. “Your services have been much appreciated, Senor Madeira.”
“Boys,” Senor Madeira’s voice bellowed from beyond the parlor doorway. “Come at once!”
Hanta sprung out from behind the door and pushed passed Deki. Together they bounced down the stairs making enough noise for both women to turn and stare as they entered the parlor. The tall woman barely smiled as Deki looked at her. She wore a very ornate hat with a stern look in her hazel eyes. Her nose was pointed and her face was covered with make-up. Around her neck, she wore a scarf that draped over a long dark purple dress. A jade green brooch that resembled a butterfly was pinned to her dress. The broach had jewels that caught the sunlight from the window and sparkled.
Deki quickly took in the room, his eyes instantly finding the source of the rustling. A pile of delicately handwritten papers with a large amount of money neatly stacked nearby. They had been sold to the strangers!
Deki back away towards the parlor doors.
“This is Deki,” Senor Madeira said, as he grabbed him by the forearm and dragged him to the middle of the parlor. “And this is Hanta.” He motioned towards the younger who was keeping his distance near the doorway with a scowl on his face. He was making no effort at being polite to the guests.
The tall women nodded while her piercing eyes darted between the two boys. She smiled slightly while her hands remained neatly folded in her lap. She had not touched the crystal glass that Senora Madeira had set out for her on a nearby table.
“Deki and Hanta,” the oddly dressed man said, as he stood up from his seat with some effort. He walked with a limp and seemed unable to balance himself. Deki reluctantly shook the man’s hand while Hanta cringed and looked away.
“Deki does well with his lessons,” Senor Madeira said, as he beamed over the boys. “Hanta—well he needs only to try harder.”
“I see,” the odd man said, as he glanced back and forth between Senor Madeira and the two boys.
“Boys,” Senor Madeira said boldly. “This is Captain Tarr and Madam Ka’, and you will be leaving with them now.”
“Where are we going?” Deki asked distrustfully.
“Have you ever been aboard a sailing ship?” Captain Tarr said with a broad smile that made his slim mustache lift.
“No,” Hanta answered stiffly.
“We shall be taking a long trip,” Captain Tarr said in the way adults talk to children, as if a change from his normal speaking voice would somehow make it seem even more exciting. “We shall cross the great ocean, would you like that?”
Deki nodded as he looked between the adults who were all beaming at him. Senora Madeira was upset, he could tell. She stood up and then hugged them both. And then Senor Madeira shook the boys’ hands and gave them each a pat on the back. He was saying how they should come back and visit someday.
Much too quickly they were being swept through the front door and onto the narrow street. Madam Ka’ ushered them toward a waiting open-air carriage. A uniformed coachman loaded their trunks onto the back. Captain Tarr and Senora Madeira were talking loudly while Senora Madeira sobbed. With a handkerchief, she kept patting her nose. Everyone waved to each other as the carriage pulled by two strong horses lurched forward. Madam Ka’ smelled of perfume, something that caused both boys to squirm in their seats.
The carriage came to the main road. With a crack of the whip, the coachmen drove the horses to the right. The carriage fell in between other carriages and wagons on the busy roadway. Horses’ hooves sounding on the cobblestone filled their ears even as the salty smell of the sea filled their nostrils. They were heading for the market square.
The market was furiously busy as vendors of all sorts hawked their wares while other people scurried about with baskets in their hands. Deki and Hanta had been to the market on a few rare occasions. With so much to see, the boys were excitedly trying to take it all in at once, much to Madam Ka’s annoyance. There were crates of birds, baskets, fruits piled high on carts, meat that hung in nets, fish which smelled, leather belts, clothing, blankets, and several one-eyed merchants watching them. There were old women who walked with canes, and younger people who rushed by. Men, some old and wrinkled stared at them. Roughnecks were everywhere, unloading wagons or arguing loudly. A young boy in tattered gray clothing seemed to have stolen an apple while the angry merchant chased after him. Deki watched as the boy tossed the apple back and took off into the shadows.
A man dressed in drab clothing came to the side of their carriage, running alongside them. He had a basket of fruit that he was trying to entice Madam Ka’ into purchasing. She waved him off, but the man persisted. Captain Tarr gave him a several coins and accepted the basket of fruit. Madam Ka’ glared at him as if he had committed a crime. Reaching the end of the market square the crowds began to thin. The carriage gained speed having pushed through the congestion of people, wagons, mules, horses, geese, and even a small herd of pigs.
Looking out at the people, Deki caught sight of a frightening roughneck. Their eyes caught for a moment. The roughneck snarled and then Deki saw him talking to another man hidden in the shadows. That man wore a hat, much like Captain Tarr’s but in the shadow, Deki could not make out much detail. He glanced backwards watching the two curiously and noted that they were now walking in the same direction. Meanwhile, the ships were coming into view. The tall, wooden sailing ships tied up at the docks bobbed up and down ever so slightly.
The docks were no place to go, not in Nacapa at least. Roughnecks worked the quays unloading the cargo ships. The men were loud and boisterous. Just staring at them made them mutter vulgar words, something that Madam Ka’ found abhorrent. She maintained her long pointed nose in an upward position and pretended as though the men were not even there. The smell on the docks was pungent. A mixture of saltwater, fish, exotic fruits, vegetables, animals, and birds all at once. There were animals and birds in cages, some of which were being loaded onto ships while other cages were put on carts destined for the market.
A monkey jumped onto the back of their carriage squealing and hissing. Madam Ka’ glared while Captain Tarr brushed the creature away. Deki looked out over the port area and realized that there were even more monkeys. Some were sitting on crates, while others were harassing the dockworkers. The monkey that had jumped onto the back of the carriage was passing them by. The horses reared slightly while the coachman shouted words.
The carriage continued down the docks and eventually came to a halt near a decorated ship. On the hull, the words ‘Star Flyer’ were painted in gold on an ornately carved name board. The offensive monkey was waiting at the boarding plank. Deki imagined that it was looking for a handout. The creature remained undeterred as several uniformed men tried to chase it off. The monkeys seemed to know how to get scraps of food and were not so easily frightened off. Deki wondered why he had not noticed the monkeys before, but then he had never been to the docks either.
The Star Flyer was larger and cleaner than most of the other ships. Freshly painted it looked quite seaworthy. Colorful flags flew from the masts, while a host of sailors peered over the side of the ship. Another uniformed man walked quickly down the ramp. He threw an apple at the monkey, which the critter immediately caught and scampered off behind some crates to devour.
Beneath starring eyes, Madam Ka’, Deki, and Hanta were whisked aboard the ship. The sailors bowed to them as they made their way onto the deck of the ship. Their trunks were carried by men who followed the Captain up the plank. A bell was sounding and as if not to waste another moment, the mooring ropes were pulled and the ship began to drift toward the sea. There was barely enough time to take in the sight of everything as the ship moved out into the harbor. Hurriedly, the mates began raising the sails.
Deki stood by the railing watching with Hanta. A uniformed man was standing behind them, while Captain Tarr and Madam Ka’ had gone off somewhere. The ship swayed with the ever-increasing swells of the approaching ocean. Deki held the ship’s brass railing tightly. Excitedly the boys pointed out the other ships plowing through the harbor. They watched as the deckhands climbed the tall masts and unfurled the rest of the sails. More sailors were stowing the mooring ropes, while another sailor climbed to the top of the main mast. Deki watched while that sailor dropped himself into the crow’s nest at the very top of the mast. He had a brass spyglass that he flicked from side to side watching the other ships closely. With the wind in their faces, the ship began reaching its top speed. Now the air smelled like saltwater, but the eye watering smell of fish and seaweed was fading away. All around them large sea birds dove into the water. The boys stood at the bulwarks until the ship cleared the harbor and hit headlong into the ocean swells. The ship rose and fell with each wave, while white water lapped at the hull with a steady thumping sound.
The uniformed man’s name was Mister Doran and he was the First Mate. He wore a white uniform with several stripes on his sleeves. He led them to a cabin and made them sit down on hard wooden chairs. Mister Doran closed the door behind them and the boys were left alone in the cabin.
“I think I am going to be sick,” Hanta said while looking a little flush.
The cabin was like an office with a cluttered table in the middle. The walls were made of dark paneling with heavy wooden beams that came up from the floor. There were brass instruments on the desk and maps piled high on another table. Lanterns hung from the wall, but being daytime the lanterns were not lit. Around the walls hung more maps, some of which had been defaced with bold pencil marks.
“Where are we going?” Deki asked. He too was beginning to feel sick as the ship rolled and pitched.
“Do you think they will eat us?” Hanta asked.
Deki shrugged, he knew nothing of the strangers’ intentions. They sat quietly listening to the groaning and creaking sounds of the ship. The sea was becoming calmer now and the feeling of being tossed about was just beginning to subside. Deki boldly stood up and went to the porthole. He peered out through the glass at the open sea. Deki could not see very much of the ship from the porthole, but he could see many birds darting around the sides of the ship.
Then the door creaked open as Captain Tarr and another very strangely dressed man entered the room. Mister Doran was the last to arrive and closing the door, he took a stance nearby. Deki quickly jumped back into the hard wooden chair and sat up straight.
“Deki and Hanta, I would like to introduce to you Tommes,” Captain Tarr said with official formality. “Of course, you have already met Doran, the First Mate.”
Tommes was even stranger looking than Captain Tarr. Tommes wore a robe, pointed hat, and carried a staff in one hand. Just above his hand at the top of the staff was a claw that grasped a large red ruby jewel. The large red jewel seemed to flash sporadically as if lightning had been trapped inside. As for Tommes, he was bearded and looked neither old nor young. His wide-brimmed pointed hat was covered in strange symbols and flopped over at the very tip. Tommes’ dark eyes were more piercing than Madam Ka’s were, but a twinkle suggested a friendliness that was noticeably absent from Madam Ka’. His beard and hair were long, flowing, and dark black in color. His robe was dark blue with gold piping and stitching. Around his waist, a simple rope was tied together forming a loose belt. An awkward silence followed while everyone stared at each other. Then Tommes smiled and his face was jolly looking while a sparkle flashed across his eyes. Deki was most interested in the ruby stone, grasped by claws. He was watching that wondering what made it flash with inner lightning the way it did.
“Well, we meet again,” Tommes said. His voice was strong and reminded Deki of the Sunday school teacher at the Madeira’s church.
“I do not know you,” Deki eventually replied. Hanta remained sullen and silent in his chair.