Walking through wet sand in heels is much harder than my books make it sound, the covert princess thought as she and the band of pirates, who carried chests filled with their stolen goods, tromped across a dismally grey beach toward a cluster of thatch-roofed huts. Constantly playing with her hair to cover the left side of her face, she looked back in wonder at the Jupiter's Return floating as effortlessly as it did in the air and said to Antenor walking beside her, “I’ve never actually docked in the water like that before.”
“That’s how they did it back when my father was a boy, in the days before ships flew, and that's the only way to do it in an old town like this.”
“And where is this exactly?”
“Mahgnitton. A small island village off the coast of Offenpain.”
“Offenpain?” Her hair slipped from her fingers for a moment before she began fumbling to adjust it again. “But that’s─”
“Not a place you’d want to live?” interrupted Firious, “What ─ with the tyrannical dictator of a queen, insanely high taxes, and extreme national debt? Not to mention the constant contagions and pest problems. Oh, trust me, we know, but this is the only place some of us have to call home.”
“You live here?” She gasped.
“Not all of us,” Antenor replied. He pointed to Levi, “But the captain and most of the crew were born and raised in this village. Their families still live here.” He gestured to the huts that now surrounded them.
If it weren’t for the smell of human waste that permeated her nostrils or the dirt-caked laundry hung out to dry, Hataru would have mistaken the town to be deserted. Everywhere she looked, she saw poverty and devastation. A single cow, so skinny she could count its ribs, silently watched them pass from where it stood tethered to a post, and the young woman had a feeling that the poor thing had not produced milk for many years. A gaggle of geese waddled by, honking weakly, but besides the bovine and the occasional seabird, she did not see any other form of life. That is, until she heard the children.
It started with a single cry, “Mama, they’re back!” and then like a herd of thundering elephants, forty pairs of tiny feet crept out of every nick and cranny and stormed down the road in a mob of waving hands and missing-tooth grins to greet the pirates, gleeful voices shouting, “Papa! Papa!” and “Captain Levi!” Many of the men dropped their loads and scooped a child or two into their arms, laughing and crying simultaneously.
Next, the women arrived, clothed in faded, hand-woven fabrics, the stress-induced wrinkles in their faces temporarily vanishing as they rushed to embrace their husbands. Other men peeked out of doorways, sharing in the joy of their neighbors.
“Alright, alright!” the captain boomed over a group of children who had flocked around him, “You want to know if I’ve brought something special?”
“Yes!” they clapped.
“Something, like… sweets?”