Bargains Lost and Bargains Made
The first thing Matra tasted when she woke was salt. It was caked in her fur, crusted white runnels making lines down the backs of her paws. The Island Zafara groaned and tried to stand. It was no good. She stared at the wood floor that was inches from her face and felt like she was going to sick up. Everything was rocking so violently.
There was a deep chuckle above her. “Awake, eh? Welcome aboard lass.”
She looked up, spasms running through the muscles in her neck with the effort, and saw, backlit by the sun, the silhouette of a very proud looking Pirate Krawk. He reached a hand down towards her but she didn’t take it. Everything was flooding back to her. Last night. The fire. Her trading vessel. The pirate attack. Matra groaned and buried her head as far down into her paws as she could manage. This had to be a dream, a terrible, terrible dream. When she opened her eyes the Krawk was still there, looking down at her with what appeared to be concern sliding across his reptilian face.
“Yer brain addled lass? I did see an awful lot o’ fire on that ship last night.”
“Were you one of the pirates?” she whispered. Her voice was so choked and small she could barely hear it. She could really use a drink of water right about now.
He laughed and the sound was about as rusty as her own voice had been. “Me lass? No. Maybe years ago ye would’ve found me aboard one o’ those big vessels but not these days. Now it’s just me n’ ol’ Lette here.” He tapped the wooden deck proudly with one foot and the whole boat rocked wildly.
Now she really felt like she was going to be sick. “This isn’t a ship is it… it’s a skiff…”
She tried to stand a second time; this time managing to get up to her knees before toppling over. The Krawk caught her and she didn’t try to shake him off. He helped her get up, her legs still quivering with exhaustion, and what she saw made her want to cry.
There was wreckage everywhere. Charred and broken bits of ship drifted by and she knew deep in her gut that it was the skeleton of her beloved trading vessel; the shattered mast and tattered flag were proof enough. The Pteri’s Flight. It had been such a beautiful little ship. That ship had seen the world with her and she felt as if she now looked at the remains of a dear old friend. From Shenkuu to Meridell she had bought and sold rare goods; Matra had made her fortune together with The Pteri’s Flight. That ship had been her life.
“It’s all gone,” she said. That was all there really was to say. Gone. And all the wishes in the world couldn’t change a thing.
“Ah, well, it ain’t all bad lass,” the Krawk said. “Yer still here alive n’ all… that’s somethin’.”
Matra tried to wipe the tears from her eyes but her salt-coated paws made them sting more. “I was almost back. All the way to the Lost Desert and almost… almost back to Mystery Island… and I just had to sail into pirate waters.” A deep bitterness ate at her heart. It just wasn’t fair. She would have happily paid in neopoints what the pirates had taken in goods just to leave her livelihood sailing on the high seas.
“I’ll take ye to my place lass, ye’ll be safe there. I be thinkin’ ye’ll need ter rest some before settin’ out much o’ anywhere.”
She turned towards the Krawk, startled by his offer. “I’m sorry. I forgot to thank you; you saved my life. I’m Matra, I’m a—well I was a trader. I don’t really know what I am anymore. Just a Zafara I guess.”
“Me name’s Thrushbeard. I know, I know, I don’t be havin’ a beard but in me younger days I had a fine one.” His eyes grew glassy with the memory and he gestured absently at his very bare looking chin with a hooked hand.
“Well, thank you Thrushbeard. You saved me,” she said.
“Nah, I don’t be needin’ none o’ that lass. I’m not so good as all that, just couldn’t be lettin’ a lady drown is all,” the old Krawk said, embarrassed.
Thrushbeard settled down and grabbed the oars to his small boat. Matra almost asked him if he needed help rowing but he way he looked fondly down at the splintered planks of the skiff made her hold back the question. This small boat—Lottie— was his child, just as The Pteri’s Flight had been hers. She settled down and watched in silence as the remains of her old life grew ever distant until, finally, all she could see were tiny, dark specks bobbing on the horizon.
They approached what looked like a sheer rock face and Matra felt herself tense. Then her eyes widened as, after a few deft strokes from Thrushbeard, a hole seemed to magically materialize in that wall of rock. It was a hidden cove tucked away from prying eyes. The Krawk moored himself at a rickety looking dock and hobbled out, offering his hand to Matra once he had his feet on solid ground.
She looked around, eyes filled with wonder. Stalactites shimmered from the ceiling while the floor of the cave entrance was coated in smooth, white sand. Torch sconces snaked along the walls, lighting even the farthest part of the cave she could see in a warm, orange glow.
“Thrush! You find anythin’ good out there?” A Bruce with a wooden leg hobbled around the corner.
“I didn’t find no treasure if that’s what you be askin’ Willey,” Thrushbeard said. “I did save this here lass though, says her name be Matra, the ship were hers.”
The Pirate Bruce gave a long suffering sigh. “We can’t be bringin’ more folk here. The point o’ being a smuggler is bein’ secretive… ye don’ go showin’ off the place!”
Matra shuddered and goose bumps rolled up her arms. “You’re smugglers? Does that mean you’re going to smuggle the goods from my ship?”
Willey shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. Smugglin’ ain’t about bein’ picky mind, it’s all ‘bout turnin’ a fast profit. If them that burned your ship bring us the goods we’ll buy ‘em on the cheap and sell ‘em for a bit more.”
“But not near as much as they’re worth,” Matra said flatly. The mercantile part of her was horrified at the wasted profit, while the rest of her was horrified that she was trying to put a price on unseen stolen goods, possibly her own.
“Eh well, I ain’t the best at pricin’ lass. So, yes, not near so much as they be worth.” Willey looked down, abashed. He shuffled his feet, peg-leg scraping awkwardly on the floor.
“What do you have in stock?”
“Just one thing fer now,” Thrushbeard said.
The Pirate Krawk hurried off and came back clutching something wrapped in a filthy, disintegrating cloth. He handed it over to Matra with careful reverence. It was hard and smooth in her hands and when she pulled away the ragged covering she gasped. An ancient hourglass shone brightly up at her and she suddenly became aware of how sweaty her paws felt. What if she dropped it? This was worth more then, well, all of her trading profits combined.
“How much would you charge for this?” she whispered.
“Ol’ Willey here wanted to sell it fer two hundred dubloons but I was tellin’ him I thought ‘twas more n’ that so we be keepin’ hold o’ it.”
“We’re supposed to sell ‘em fast,” Wiley grumbled, clearly unhappy with Thrushbeard’s criticism of his pricing.
“What if I told you I could sell this for ten times that?” She asked. “Maybe more.” Her voice was hushed, as if raising it too loudly would break the precious artifact.
Both Pirate pets stilled, looking at her with a mixture of hope and skepticism that did not belong on their sea-hardened faces. She smiled, and found herself feeling strangely at home in this cave with these two old pirates. It was almost like standing aboard The Pteri’s Flight one final time, ready to set sail off into some new territory, off to barter her way through another adventure.
“If ye could do that,” Willey said, “I think I’d have to kiss yer cheek and dance a jig on me bad leg.”
Matra found herself smiling. She carefully set down the ancient hourglass and held out both of her paws, one to each of the wizened pirates. “Gentlemen, I think this may be the beginning of a beautiful partnership.”
All three shook on the deal. Matra could hear the sea crashing outside of the cave and she breathed in the scent of the salt air. She would always miss her old ship, just as a new friend could never replace an old one; she knew that loss would ache inside her for years to come. However, here, in this cave, she had learned something about herself she had never known before. Her ship had been her friend, her ever constant companion in times both smooth and rough, but it had never been her home. No, she realized now, as she held hands with her new business partners, that making a bargain—wherever it may be—that was where she truly felt at home. She laughed and the sound echoed around the cave.
“You be lookin’ awful happy now lass,” Willey said, squinting at her suspiciously.
Matra laughed again at the look on the Pirate Bruce’s face. “Just looking forward to that jig you’ll be doing Willey.”
Thrushbeard scratched at his bare chin. “Hm, I guess I be wrong ‘bout somethin’.”
Matra raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What do you mean?”
“Well,” he said, “Earlier I be sayin’ I didn’t find no treasure. Now I think I be findin’ the best treasure on that whole ship.”
“A half drowned Zafara?” Matra asked jokingly.
“Nah,” Thrushbeard said, a wicked little grin cracking across his jaw. “I think I be findin’ meself a friend.”
“And that,” Willey added, “be a treasure worth keepin’.”