Knock knock knock.
“Come in,” Anne called through the heavy door of her office. A slight young man stepped over the threshold, striking her by how much he had grown since they had first picked him up in Oarsmeet. Seated at her desk, Anne’s gaze gradually came to meet the boy’s.
“You asked to see me, ma’am?” His voice was steady, but there was anxiety in his eyes.
“Relax, you’re not in trouble. I need to speak to you about the future. Your future.” His nervous eyes grew wide, though he struggled to maintain his composure. “Tell me: how are you at keeping secrets? Not from your enemies, but from your friends? Those you once called allies?”
“I-I don’t know. Pretty good, I would say,” he stammered.
“I need you to be perfect. Can I count on you?”
“Tell me first. Who exactly am I keeping this from?” His curiosity piqued, Anne knew better than to reveal her plan so soon.
“I’ll ask again: Can I count on you?”
“Yes. Yes you can. I won’t tell a soul,” the boy promised, eager to be let in on the secret.
Anne reached into a drawer on her desk, quickly removing a small sheet of paper. It had been sealed with wax, bearing the Compass Rose crest of Aldoria, which the boy recognized as the symbol Anne had been using for official New Oarsmeet business for many years. She stepped outfrom behind her desk, extending the letter to him, but pulled back as he reached out to grasp it. “Then prove it. This is not for your eyes. It is not for Morty’s eyes. This is for the highest ranking official in New Aldoria with whom you can speak. Understood?”
Confusion was written as clearly on his face as the nervousness previously had. He was intrigued, wanting to tear open the letter then and there to read its contents, although he knew Anne’s blades were never far away, and to do so would be suicide. Instead he simply nodded.
“Good. It’s a long trip to take alone. You should stock up and get going soon. Head down to the warehouse. The workers are expecting you.” She turned and walked back to her desk but remained standing.
“Anne, what’s going on? Is everything okay?” The boy prodded, hoping to sate some of his curiosity. “Why can’t the Captain know? Why am I being sent? Why can’t you go? What’s in this letter?”
“You’re asking a lot of questions when you should be leaving. Like I said, you have a long road ahead of you. The sooner you begin, the sooner you finish.”
“I trust you, Anne. I really do. You’re the only officer who doesn’t always treat me like I’m worthless. But I can’t do this. Not without a few answers first,” he took a step closer, urging his now shaking voice to sound soothing. This was clearly important to the First Mate, but why couldn’t she tell him anything?
“I suppose you’ve been doing well recently. You’ve put up with a lot from us and have become a man because of-no-despite us. I’ll try to explain. Stop me if you have any questions.” Anne turned to face the boy, her face as solemn as her tone. A mix of pride, fear, and determination flashed in her eyes before she began to speak again. “I wasn’t always a pirate. Long ago, I was actually a Lieutenant in Aldoria’s Royal Navy. My Captain, crew and I scoured the seas for people like what I have become. I left because I disagreed with an order. I still know in my heart that doing so was the right move. What was the mistake, however, was throwing my lot in with Morty and his band. That was ten years ago. I was young, and they promised me adventure and silver. They weren’t wrong, but I am starting to believe that I was. I should have stayed behind in Oarsmeet and died fighting the Undead. I should have stayed a prisoner of my old crew and started a new life in the new world. I should have done something, ANYthing, except what I did. I realize this now, but I fear it may be too late.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Morty has been actively working to keep me out of the loop on many decisions. His demeanor has changed over the last few months, and now it seems that his son is following in his footsteps. I don’t know what has come over them, but I do know that I don’t like it and want no part of it. That’s what the letter is. It’s a chance at a new life. Actually, it may be a chance at my old life. I’m hoping to communicate with New Aldoria to reenlist myself and any from New Oarsmeet who wish to join me in the Aldorian Navy. Morty cannot know, because I would hate to see his reaction; I can only assume it would be violent. This is why I cannot go. If I were to suddenly take a trip to New Aldoria, Morty would become suspicious. You avoid his notice most times, and others he would be glad to be rid of you. You have given me no reason to distrust you so far, and I need you to continue to do so. Take this letter, and give me an opportunity to redeem myself for the crimes I have committed this past decade. You are free to make your own decision regarding my departure, but in a few months’ time, one way or another, I will be leaving the crew. Stay, go, or come with me, the choice is yours. I wish only that it didn’t have to be the case.”
“You’re serious? You’re leaving the crew? What will become of the town? Of the ship?” The boy pressed, awestruck by the words he had just heard.
“Dead serious. The town is under my protection. I will remain here and lead the people if I can, or encourage them to come with me if I cannot. The people are resourceful. I’m sure they can find some way to make their homes elsewhere,” Anne explained. Her eyes started to dart around the room, clearly anxious that this conversation was still continuing. “As for the ship, that belongs to Morty. He may sail it wherever he wishes, but will know that he is no longer welcome in the Port of New Oarsmeet.”
“I’m coming with you. This life is clearly not for me, and the crew doesn’t care about me. I’m a joke to them, and I’m sick of it. Hell, just look at the name they gave me! We could leave tonight! They wouldn’t be able to stop us until we were long gone!” The boy was getting excited by the idea of freedom from the crew.
“No, I can’t. I have a responsibility to the people here, and have other matters to which I must attend. You must leave now, though. The sooner that letter reaches Prince Aylin or one of his officers, the sooner we can put this whole matter behind us,” Anne said, sitting down at her desk once again. She glanced up at the boy. “Oh, and Artyom, thank you. It is nice to know that I’m not in this alone.” The boy was struck once again by her words and stood, staring at the First Mate. “Everything okay?” Anne asked him, taken aback by his response.
“You…you’ve never called me that before…” The young mage began before trailing off.
“Would you prefer to go back to being ‘Swabby’?”
“No! No. Thank you. I’ll be back as quickly as I can with a response.”
Knock knock knock.