|The Messenger Bird
Author: Emaleya PM
Short character piece in a steampunk setting. Every night she'd tell a story of adventure, of riches and bright clear skies and wind in their faces and of them travelling the skies in their own airship, sails bright and pulling them swiftly to their destination. Their bellies and purses would always be full because she was a good captain and took care of her crew.Rated: Fiction T - English - Family - Words: 2,434 - Published: 08-08-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3048760
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Emie was not a clean little girl, she smelled of the street and old food. Her clothes were old, shredded, worn and torn. She was just a young girl but she had a busy schedule she'd devised on her own. Monday through Wednesday she could be found on Calm Elm street running from door to door to find small jobs or handouts. On Thursdays she lurked outside the schoolhouse window greedily absorbing as much of the lesson as she could before running off. Emie knew by now that it was best to get away before the ringing of the bell released the spoiled, violent little monsters that made up the students actually allowed to attend. Thursday evenings were spent with Old Missus Wandgale who was lonely, and couldn't see very well and would give Emie tea and some old biscuits, and most importantly, let her look at her books if she would do chores for her. Disheswere cleaned, chamber pots rinsed and dumped and the stove was scrubbed until it could give an attempt at gleaming. Fridays and Saturdays were spent at the marketplace, getting underfoot and snatching anything she could get her hands on be it food, coins or otherwise. Sundays, she loitered around the entrances of the various houses of worship, looking as cherubic and downtrodden as possible in order to be people's good deed for the week.
Doyle, Rufus, Will and Baby all had similar schedules. Rufus watched the school on Monday, Will on Tuesday and Doyle and Baby shared Wednesday and Friday. Though since they were just a pack of dirty little boys none of them were in Old Missus Wandgale's good graces. Emie and Doyle were the eldest while Baby the youngest and all five of them lived in the shed in Mr. Renfish's backyard on Blue Deerstreet. And sometimes they lived under the bridge or in the scaffolding under the skydock. They stayed wherever the police were not patrolling that month, since they seemed to delight in terrifying the children and trying to take them away. None of the children were sure exactly where the police would take them, but they all agreed it had to be somewhere bad. Like the workhouses or those church-run orphanages where they throw the bad children down long winding stairs and feed them cockroaches.
Every night, or most nights at least, as they huddled together under whatever they had, curled protectively around their possessions, she'd tell them a story. Emie told them a story of adventure, of riches and bright clear skies and wind in their faces. She'd tell a story of them travelling the skies in their own airship, sails bright and full and pulling them swiftly to their destination. She'd be their captain, Doyle would be the engineer because he was pretty good at fixing things, Rufus the rigger because he could climb the fastest, Will would be the cook and Baby would be their cabin boy, fetching and carrying and singing for them throughout their many journeys. Their bellies would always be full along with their purses because she was a good captain and took care of her crew. Sometimes they were explorers, finding wild new lands full of magic and danger and gold and sometimes pirates.
Emie was not a friendly girl, she was not a polite girl and she was not a trusting girl. But since she was a little older now she could fake all these things for people when she needed to. She faked friendly trust for the people coming out of the churches on Sunday. She faked politeness for the older people who'd let her work for a little food. She faked for the police when they came by to make sure she was on her way home, and for them she even faked that she had a proper home with parents for them.
She did not fake anything when she first found the boy lying naked in the storm drain. His long limbs were sprawled awkwardly and covered in grime but seemed uninjured; his face was turned away from her, though Emie guessed that he was unconscious by his lack of movement. She looked at the grey skies; a few drops of rain hit her face and shoulders. It was going to rain again and she was beginning to shiver. Turning back to the boy she debated with herself whether to just leave him. She'd heard of others dying in the cold wet autumn weather. She'd occasionally worried about doing so herself, or that her friends would. But he wasn't her problem; she didn't know him, so why should she care if he became another one of those stories of the harsh streets? They didn't have enough food or space as it was. And who was he anyway? For all she knew he might be a total freak who killed people for fun or to eat their flesh.
Maybe he was already dead? Only, she could see him breathing. Not her problem she told herself, walk away she told herself, just turn around and walk away. Which is why she was so surprised to find herself kneeling beside the strange boy and nudging his shoulder.
"Boy, boy, hey wake up boy"
She decided then that if he didn't respond she'd leave, there was nothing she'd be able to do for him anyway.
Just as she was about to stand up she saw one of his hands curl into a fist. She thought that was just her luck; she didn't want to deal with him so he has the indecency (a word she'd learned outside the church) to wake up before she leaves. Sighing, she shakes his shoulder again and she jumped back, cursing, when he abruptly sits up.
The boy, maybe older than she first guessed, turns his head to face her, though the rest of his body remains still. Emie simply stares back at him, momentarily unable to speak. The whites of his eyes were so entirely white that they reminded her of Missus Wandgale's delicate china cups. While the blue irises, or at least that's what she'd heard they we called, looked to be made of pale blue pieces of glass cleverly fitted together so that, as she watched, she could see them slide against each other, spinning open into a thin ring of blue as the boy stared at her.
"Uh, good, you're awake. You should go home, it's cold."
The boy blinks.
"…Right." She saw a line of stitches wrapping around his shoulder. "you hurt or something."
The boy shook his head.
"Do you need help getting home?"
His expression changed, bright eyes widening, eyebrows drawing together and upward, mouth tensing and the rest body cringed away from her.
"Ok, easy, no going home, fine, no problem." She held her hands out, waving them, palms down, until his features relaxed.
"You have a name?"
"Can you walk?"
Emie sighed and wiped her nose on her arm, standing. "Right. Well, lets go." She takes a few steps and looks back to see if he gets it.
He seemed to and he stood. At that moment Emie realized she forgot something important.
"Blast!" she clamped a hand over her eyes, and shrugged off the rag she wore around her shoulders as some sort of shawl. "Here" she holds it out for him. "Cover your bits before you're arrested."
She heard rustling and hoped he did as he was told, but Emie really didn't want to have to check. "Arright, then. Follow me."
That night they decided they'd name the new boy Scott. After the man who ran the glass and glazing shop on Red River road.
In her story she was still their captain, Doyle was the engineer because he was pretty good at fixing things, Rufus the rigger because he could climb the fastest, Will the cook and Baby their cabin boy. But Scott, Scott became her first mate, her second in command, because he was already the best at doing what she asked of him, and for him she didn't have to fake anything.
Emie was not a pretty girl, she was too skinny, too dirty and she didn't really care about what she looked like. She could be pretty. It wasn't an impossible feat, her features were regular, her skin relatively smooth beneath the grime and her hair was long with the potential for wild curls should it be treated properly. But it wasn't, she wasn't, and she didn't mind it.
Emie was older now, and not only was she not pretty, she wasn't as cute as she was before so she lost some of her old sources of money and food. To keep everyone fed, first she found Scott, and then herself work at the skydocks. Scott, with his surprisingly large frame, earned what he could loading cargo. Emie advertised her speed as a courier and spent the days running and climbing from airship to dock to airship delivering letters and small packages.
"Hey, pretty, slow down"
The yell, came from an elderly captain of a fast looking late model sloop, caught Emie up short. She looked around, seeing no one but herself, and Scott watching from the deck of the neighbouring carrier. "You want something?"
"Captain" The man corrected.
She furrowed her brows, "What?"
He grinned, "do you want something, Captain."
Shrugging, she decides to go along with it, a job is a job, "do you want something, Captain?"
"Sure thing, Pretty. It's back in my cabin though, so come on up." Large weathered hands wave her up onto deck. As she climbed onto deck Emie had to admit, the new design of the ship interested her more at this point than the job prospects.
The ship was small, sloops typically being used for racing or pleasure it was built more for speed than for cargo. But, oh, if only it were hers, Emie thought she would rather like to expand her delivery service past this one skydock. She could make a fair amount of money, she thought, if she could take messages from ship to ship midflight. Emie was already mentally adding the new details to her nightly story.
"C'mon girl," the captain prodded "let's go."
Emie followed him below deck. The crew quarters were small, only four bunks and another room, which she was led into. The captain's cabin was also small, big enough for a bed, desk and chair and little else.
"Sit yourself, down, pretty," she's instructed, again, with that word. She was finding this habit of his stranger and stranger "it might take me a moment to find what I'm looking for." He watched her expectantly, so she carefully sat on the bed where he'd gestured. She expected him to sit in his desk chair, but he simply stood where he was, watching her, smiling. She nervously smiled back and he seemed to take that as an invitation and sat down beside her. Close beside her. Rather closer than she would have preferred.
He put an arm over her shoulder "you're pretty, anyone ever tell you that?"
"Shame" he lamented "A pretty girl should be told she's pretty."
Emie shrugged "It's okay, I'm not a pretty girl"
"Oh, you are, though." He said and leaned against her "so tiny, too."
Emie hesitated, "not that tiny" she pulled away, stood up and started to back out of the room.
"No" He grinned again, "not too tiny for me at all"
That was when Emie figured it out. Her blood ran cold, she'd heard about this sort of thing happening, to the pretty ladies working the alleys. But she wasn't one of them, so she thought she was safe.
Emie bolted for the deck, but the captain was larger with longer legs. He caught her on the steps, pulling her down beneath him. She screamed and struggled, but he kept her pinned, easily, while trying to shuffle up her skirts and expose her. More easily, she realised than if she'd worn pants like Scott, Doyle and all of her friends. If only she wore pants, if only she carried a blade, or a gun or… her mind kept going through the possibilities.
She heard a roar and the weight and hands were gone. She looked around and found Scott bashing the man's head against the floor until he went limp. She stared at him. Scott looked up at her.
"Are you ok?"
"Mostly," she tried to reassure him, " sort of."
He nodded then looked down, "I think I killed him."
Emie is an unusual girl, she supposes. She's a captain of her own ship; a sloop renamed The Messenger Bird, though female captains aren't that unusual. She knows of several women captains and even a girl her own age who has managed captaincy. She runs her own business, again not unusual for women, delivering messages from ship to ship, midflight, and regardless of the legal status of the senders or recipients.
She figures she's the most strange because nobody really knows any of this, except her crew. Nobody knows she's the captain, always assuming that Scott, the tallest, strongest and oldest member of her crew had to be the one in charge. She figures it keeps her that much safer in the long run so she encourages it by keeping him well dressed. If the clothes she finds for him are more flattering than he would choose for himself, well, that's just her own little bonus.
Then there is the fact that most people don't even know she's a girl, and that's how she likes it. She wears masculine clothing, binds her chest and keeps her hair short. Of course, her relationship with Scott being what it is, leads to him received some rather disgusted looks from time to time. Not that he could care less about anyone else's opinion of him.
All the same, she is their captain, their bellies and purses are usually full and they've seen many new lands and visited many new places. Though, Emie thinks she could do without having to work with all the pirates and danger.
Every night she'd tell a story of adventure, of riches and bright clear skies and wind in their faces and of them travelling the skies in their own airship, sails bright and pulling them swiftly to their destination. Their bellies and purses would always be full because she was a good captain and took care of her crew. Sometimes they were explorers, finding new lands full of magic and danger and gold.