The Menagrie, V. III

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Luckily, Maricent was not prone to seasickness. The other sailors saw through his act the first day, but Maricent kept working hard and always had a smile and a pat on the back for any sailor who showed him the right way to do something. He soon earned the respect of the crew and felt he was, in spite of his age and relative weakness, becoming a real sailor. He suspected Captain Stone-Fist also knew he wasn’t really a sailor, but after she called him out a couple times and another crewman pleaded his case, she let him be.

There were only a few little problems. One problem was Rolath, the boy who tipped him off on how to get on board. TEvery shift change as they passed each other on the stairs or the deck, Rolath would lean to his ear and say, “Give me your rum ration or I’ll tell the Captain.”

Rolath never said what, exactly, he’d tell the Captain. Maricent complied the first day, and after that it became a habit. He wasn’t much of a drinker in any case, but neither was Rolath. He never drank a drop, as far as Maricent could see. Every week when he got his little bottle of rum refilled, he’d take to to Rolath after his shift and Rolath would give it back empty. The missing rum didn’t bother Maricent, but he felt the indignity keenly. Maricent the Great was being taken advantage of by a mere boy.

The other problem was the cargo. The Abacean Ambassador was carrying several rare animals to Firsthold where, according to one of the other sailors, they’d become part of the Crystal Tower’s Great Menagerie. That they were transporting beasts wasn’t a problem, but as one of the less experienced sailors, it was often his duty to care for them.

First there was the dragonling. In addition to trying to burn his hair off, the little bugger pooped. Sure, most animals did, but not all animals had magical poo. There was no better way to say it. It didn’t behave like it should. It would explode if you handled it too roughly and sneak away if you weren’t looking. It could turn from liquid to solid to liquid at the worst moment. And you had to scoop the poop one-handed while holding a dragonscale shield between your head and the flying brute at all times.

Then there was the giant spider-like thing. It wasn’t a spider, whatever it was. It usually wasn’t hostile. It wasn’t usually even awake. But one time while taking the empty feeding tray out from the slot at the bottom of its cage and sliding the new tray in (with a live chicken strapped to it), the thing drooled on his arm and Maricent was sick and delirious for two days. “Close call, that,” said one of the sailors when he was able to work. “Those things are sure poisonous. Or is it venomous? You’re lucky it didn’t bite you.” Maricent wanted to ask what it was, but of course he was pretending to be mute.

The troll wasn’t too bad for a troll. It was a giant of its kind with completely black fur. It would take a swipe at you if you got too close, and it would sometimes roar and rattle the bars of its cage, but it seemed content enough with a few live chickens and a hand keg of ale every day. The smell, of course, was terrible. One of the worst parts of Maricent’s chores was carrying the bucket of troll dung up to the deck to be tossed overboard. He spilled a little on his shoes one day and Captain Stone-Fist had them confiscated and thrown overboard as well. Then she ordered him to be tied up and lowered into the cold water racing by until there was no trace of the scent left on him.

The wraith didn’t require any care. It just floated in its magic circle, occasionally making a sound like distance screaming or a sort of labored breathing. But its looming presence kept Maricent nervous and jittery the whole time he was trying to care for the other creatures.

The worst was the nymph. She was easy to care for, in theory. She wasn’t hostile, and she didn’t eat or make a mess as far as he could tell. But she was…distracting. Maricent would be trying to feed the dragonling, and he’d hear an inviting laugh and look over to see the nymph smiling at him, brushing her fine hair slowly over one ear and she’d turn her body towards him just enough that he could see…and then the dragonling would flame him and he’d barely duck back under the shield in time to keep his own hair. And twenty seconds later she’d do it again. He kept finding empty rum bottles in the Nymph’s cage, which puzzled him, but he had little time to ponder how they got there.

By the time the Isles were in sight, Maricent was no longer assigned to the animals quite so often. A couple of sailors had gotten drunk and somehow set the beakhead on fire. They were given more of the feeding and cleaning duties as punishment, so Maricent was up in the crow’s nest with a spyglass scanning the horizon. He looked mainly towards the Isles, not because he expected pirates or anything of the sort from that direction, but because every other direction was nothing but empty sea.

And then he saw…something. A glint, a bit of white. He looked again and again and decided there was, indeed, something there. He tried to moan and get someone’s attention, but it was no use. Why send a mute, even a fake mute, up to the crow’s nest? Should he yell out a warning and give the game away? He looked down and saw a few sailors near the base of the mainmast cleaning the deck. He had just gotten his rum ration this morning and hadn’t passed it on to Rolath today, so he reluctantly got it out, aimed it as carefully as he could to the swaying of the ship, and let it drop. Luckily, one of the sailors saw it fall and crack open. He looked up. Maricent pointed to the horizon, then back at his mouth, then back at the horizon and waved his arms frantically.

Slowly the sailor realized something was amiss and ran and got the Captain. She and Maricent tried to play a game of pantomime, but she gave up and climbed up to the crow’s nest herself. “Who ordered a mute to be a lookout?”

Maricent pointed to her and shrugged. “Out,” she said. They managed to trade places without either of them falling. The Captain took up the spyglass and Maricent pointed at the horizon.

“Shor’s withered foot,” she said, “it’s a skimmer.”

Maricent just looked at her blankly and she took pity on him, once again. “A elven naval ship. They’re headed right for us, which means they think they’ve got some business with us.” She climbed back down and began shouting orders at the men. They changed course a little to meet the ship sooner.

Maricent looked through the spyglass again and now he could make it out. It was a long, slender ship, riding high in the water, with three oddly shaped silver sails, all completely full against the wind. “Must be magic,” Maricent whispered to himself. The hull seemed to be made of glass with green and blue swirls underneath.

The ship drew nearer, turned, and came along beside them. Maricent watched from the crow’s nest as the sails of the elven ship sagged and they matched the Abacean Ambassador’s speed. They didn’t bother with a plank. A haughty Altmer floated from their ship and landed next to the Captain. The elf took out some papers and began pointing to them and to the ship, generally. After a brief conversation, the Captain went into her quarters and came out with a small chest. She opened it and the Altmer took it and began rifling through the papers inside. There was much argument between them and pointing at the papers.

At the end, the Captain was defeated. She called out for everyone to assemble on the deck. Maricent climbed down to join them. “The port of Firsthold is closed,” the Captain shouted so everyone could hear. “These…representatives are going to take our cargo. And we’ll get paid for it, don’t worry. They’re going to pay what they agreed. But they are demanding that anyone aboard,” the Captain paused and looked around, “anyone aboard under false pretenses will be arrested and held until the Empire sends for them.” The Captain muttered under her breath, “Which is likely never.”

Another pair of Altmer floated over the deck and cast a spell. A few of the sailors began glowing. Maricent looked down at his own glowing hands and arms. The Altmer began questioning everyone who glowed. Oddly, all of them confessed at once. The first sailor said, “Alright, you got me. I’m Esmoran of Wilderwold. I killed Lord Uthbert who took my girl. I killed him and got on the next ship out of port before his body was ever found. That was thirty years ago. Never had reason to kill again. It’s not right, what you’re doing. You have no cause to—” And he suddenly slumped as if asleep. The Altmer dragged him over to the skimmer.

The next one, one of the ones who set the beakhead on fire, said, “I…why, I was Andre Virraud, a bastard and the sixth Prince of Camlorn. My parents arranged a marriage for me with Clarisse of Tulune, and if you only met her, you’d understand why I chose to give up my titles and become a sailor. My oldest brother is the Duke now. He always hated me, so you’ll not get any ransom for me. You can’t just—” And he, too, slumped lifeless and was carried off.

The next one said, “I’m Yvane of Skeffington, and wanted from Glenumbra to Wayrest. I was almost ready to release the beasts below deck and take this ship to Evergloam for my reward. You’ll regret laying hands on me. No prison can hold Yvane, for I shall—”

The next was Rolath, who said, “I told the recruiter I was sixteen, but I was only twelve. He knew, too, but they were desperate for men. There was nothing back there for me but pigs. Pigs, pigs, pigs! But I’m sixteen now. It’s legal for me to sign up now. I can—”

And last, it was Maricent’s turn. When the gaze of the Altmer fell upon him, he said, much to his surprise, “I’m Marient Sintieve, Marient the Great, Marient Three-Faces, the greatest actor in all High Rock, indeed, in all of Tamriel! I was banned most unfairly by the guild, so I was trying to reach Firsthold in order to—”

And all went black.

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