“Can you tell me what you’re doing on my ship, Zephyr?” Not a single drop of vicious tone could be found in the man’s voice.
“Yes, but it’s a long story so you might want to get a chair or something to sit on,” Zephyr said politely, still a bit uneasy.
Levi chortled softly, “I’ll be fine. Go ahead.”
“Okay, well, last year I ran away from home, because my dad was a cruel man and he liked to beat me. I wandered around a village I’d come to one night, and there were a lot of scary people around, so I started running. I didn’t know where I was going, I just knew I wanted to get away from the scary men. They were burning buildings down and stealing things. I heard women screaming and babies crying. Everywhere I turned, they were there.
“I closed my eyes and ran faster, trying to escape, but then I bumped into him, the leader of the horrible men, Captain Kosu. He looked down at me with the most evil stare, the same stare that my father had when he was about to hurt me. I thought I was going to die! Then he motioned for one of the biggest, hairiest men I have ever seen to take me away. The big man carried me onto a big boat and locked me in a room, and no matter how hard I hit and kicked, he wouldn’t let me go. I pounded on the door, screaming for someone to let me out, but nobody came. I tried to squeeze out the window, but I was too big.
“When the evil men came back, I was let out of the room, but only because they wanted me to peel their potatoes. Captain Kosu told me that if I didn’t work hard, he would toss me over the edge of the boat while we were flying, and I believed him. What choice did I have, but to work for them? I was given all of the chores that nobody liked to do, like swabbing the deck and cleaning the john. I didn’t like doing it, but I did it because I knew Captain Kosu wasn’t lying when he said he would kill me.
“Today, one of the other men had to do my chores for punishment, so I was told to come aboard your ship and help distract your men while two of our men stole a book or something. I was so scared, though. So I hid underneath one of the lifeboats, where these guys found me. And that’s why I’m on your ship, Mister Captain, sir. I’m really sorry.”
Levi smiled warmly, “You can call me Levi, Captain Levi. Thank you for sharing this story with me. I will let you stay on my ship, as long as you help out and carry your own wait. Or I’ll let you off at the next port, if you want.”
“Really? You would do that for me? No one has ever been kind to me before, Mister Captain Levi, sir. I would love to be back on the ground again, so, if it isn’t too much of a bother, I would like to take you up on your offer. I’ll help out on the ship until then though, so you don’t have to worry about me! Thank you, Mister Captain Levi! Thank you!” Zephyr was crying happily now. He ran up and hugged Levi tightly.
Giving him a firm hug back, the captain assured him, “Of course it isn’t too much of a bother. We’ll have to do something about your clothes though. I think I still have some of my old garb from when I was your age. I’ll look around in here while Firious takes you on a complimentary tour of the ship. How does that sound?”
“That sounds great! Thank you so much, sir!” Zephyr gasped, lighting up with delight. Firious and the two men left, showing the boy around the ship. Levi chuckled to himself as he watched them leave, then got up and started digging through drawers, trying to find some duds for the lad.
“That was very kind of you, Captain Levi,” Hataru remarked. “Your father must have raised you well, for you to be so kind to a little mistreated boy. It’s unbelievable, really. Most people would have turned up their noses, but you, you’re helping. It truly is remarkable.”
“Oh, you think so?” Levi turned around and looked at her, and he was caught off guard. His pupil dilated, wanting to take in all of her splendor. Her elegant, cyan eyes sparkled in admiration, and her satin gown shimmered with the beauty-defining curves of her body. Her ruby lips were shaped perfectly, and her gorgeous, long russet hair cascaded down her back.
Her soft cheeks grew pink under his gaze, but it only added to her charm. “Yes, I do,” she said with sincerity.
“Oh,” it was Levi’s turn to blush, “Well, I... I, uh.” He took a step toward her.
“Yes?” She took a step toward him.
Half-way through another step, he tried to continue, “Well, I─”
Slam! “Wow, Captain Levi! Your ship is amazing! Thank you for letting me see it. I don’t want to be rude, since you’re already doing so much for me, but I was wondering if you’d found any clothes in my size yet. If not, I’ll just wait outside. The sky is really beautiful, almost as pretty as your lady friend here,” he turned to Hataru, “Hi, my name is Zephyr. What’s your name? Did you know that your eyes are the color of the sky? I really like the sky. It’s so big! I didn’t get to see it much when I was working for that mean old Captain Kosu, but when I did, it always blew my mind. What did you say your name was, again?”
“Slow down, Zephyr!” her laugh was pure hearted and light, her smile gleaming like pearls. “My name is Hataru, princess of Trellisaina.”
“You’re a princess, huh? You sure are pretty enough to be a princess, but why are you on a pirate’s ship? Did they kidnap you? Why aren’t you tied up? Shouldn’t you be wearing a crown or something? Where is all of your gold and money?”
“Zephyr!” Levi snapped. “Calm down! One question at a time, and you really shouldn’t be so nosey, you know.”
Bowing his head, Zephyr apologized, “I’m sorry Mister Captain Levi. I just get carried away sometimes; I’m so curious.”
Hataru jumped in, “I’ll tell you why I’m on the ship, Zephyr. I have a long story too, so why don’t you sit down on the bed over there, and I’ll sit in this chair, and tell it to you. Okay?”
“That sounds great!” He clambered up onto Levi’s bed, squished the pillows to make himself comfortable, and then listened intently.
Once she was done, Levi handed Zephyr some aged, but still good quality shirt and slacks, along with a pair of boots, which still had a bit of mud caked on them from years ago. He directed him to change behind wooden room divider.
“So, Zephyr,” he asked, “you said that you knew that Kosu and his men came to my ship to steal a book. Do you know what else they have stolen or what they still are going to steal?”
“Oh yeah, sure, last week we, well... they, stole a black dagger from a prince. I think his name was Tary or Taryn or something like that.”
Hataru’s ears perked up. “Did you say Prince Tarin? As in Prince Tarin Vallor?”
“Yeah that was it! Do you know him? I guess you, being a princess and all, would know lots of princes, right?”
“Honestly, I haven’t actually met him yet. He was the man next on my list of possible suitors that I was supposed to meet during my tour of the continent. I never got the chance because of those awful pirates.”
Levi cringed when he remembered that she was a princess in search of a proper suitor. “Well, it’s a small world after all, isn’t it?” he exclaimed awkwardly, a bit flustered and irritated that he had forgotten. Hataru looked at him questioningly; he ignored it. “Have they stolen anything else yet, Zephyr?”
“Ah, no. I think they said that the next thing they needed was a comb from a dead lady-pirate’s cave of treasures. I heard something about it being on top of one of the tallest mountains known to man?”
Levi sighed. “I know the place,” he said grimly, “if that is where they are heading, then we’d better fly quickly. It’s a three day’s travel from here, and Kosu must be hours ahead of us by now. I’ll go tell Furious.” Levi started walking out.
“Wait, Levi,” Hataru stopped him, “what is this place? Where are we going?”
“To the Place where Earth and Sky Kiss,” he answered.
Hataru’s eyes nearly popped out of her skull. “Oh my,” she whispered.
“I don’t get it,” Zephyr thought aloud, “how can the earth and the sky kiss? They don’t have lips! What’s so great about this mountain, anyway? I mean, how tall can one rock be?”
“Oh, Zephyr,” Hataru sighed, “you will see. It is the tallest mount on the face of the planet. I’ve read about it in books and heard many legends about it. One of the most popular legends describes a pirate’s treasure hidden in a cave at the peak. Many people have died trying to climb the mountain seeking the treasure to become rich and famous. If you don’t believe me, just you wait and see.”