The Tides of Glory, Part 1
We were all pirates that Sally-season; buccaneers, desperadoes, the Terrors Of The Inner Sea, but my crew was the most notorious. There were three of us, Jennifer, Millicent and me, and each of us had her own special pirate name. Jennifer was Slutty Jen, the Sea-Whore, but we called her Sluts for short. She was chief fo'c'sle-hand. Millicent was the cabin-boy, so of course she had to be Roger. And me - I was the Captain and I was to be treated with the respect and fear due to my ebony ringlets, gold hoop earrings and jewel-studded cutlass. You called me Cap'n or Skipper, or you walked the plank.
You can blame the 'Down for this. It was probably because she had recently seen some pirate films or read some old books, and had decided that if the Hispaniola or the Black Pearl could be a pirate ship then so could she. As you'd expect, she had a weakness for films with ships in them, especially if they were sailing ships. So when we trooped over to the Monitor's house for a viewing that Sunday evening it wasn't a comedy or a cartoon we saw. It wasn't even our old favourite Robin Hood. No, although the 'Down was as fond of seeing Errol Flynn swaggering across the screen in company with Olivia de Havilland and Basil Rathbone as we were, it was The Sea Hawk that caught her imagination that evening. And so all over the world of Glory, from the domes and spires of Horn, past the industrial cities of Edge and the plantations of Gold all the way down to our scruffy little village of Parrolindon in the Ringland of Leaven, the people sat in rows in front of the screen in the Monitor's house and watched the film the 'Down showed them.
I've seen pictures of the cinemas they used to have on Earth. They were enormous great halls with rows and rows of seats piled up in tiers and a huge screen at the front. I bet you could get more than a hundred people at a time into one of those places. Our Monitor's house wasn't as big as that, but you could still cram thirty people into his viewing room if the tinies sat on the floor at the front and us twenties stood with our backs resting against the walls. Of course, we were lucky. It wasn't evening everywhere on Glory. It wasn't even Sunday; and if it was the middle of a working day when the 'Down decided to broadcast a film it was tough luck, and you'd have to miss it.
The showing started off with something called Pearl and Dean. I didn't have too much patience with this as most of it didn't mean much to me. I had no interest in Indian restaurants, exhaust shops or dry cleaners, whatever they were, so I fooled around and chattered with my friends while it was on. The adults seemed to like it, though, so they shushed us and threatened to throw us out if we didn't pipe down.
Then there was a short break while the screen showed blurry coloured patterns and Mrs Monitor handed out things to eat and drink. I had a banana and a cup of mango juice and so did my friends. It was getting hot in the room - Hally was counterweighted that weekend - so the juice was very welcome. Someone opened a window and a little fresh air came in.
Then the film started; and what can I say? I instantly forgot the fug in the screening room; it was replaced by a stiff breeze blowing up the English Channel. And the story! There were kings, queens, lords and pirates! Ships actually sailing on the wide-open sea! Treachery and injustice and the triumph of good over evil. All the stuff Miss Jaynes would expect me to write about next term.
But ships! Sailing ships, crossing a wide boundless ocean! That's what got me - the sheer scale of it. That's what turned me into a pirate.
- 0 -
Of the three of us, I was the only one who had a boat of her very own. All right, nearly of my very own. I was expected to share her with my brother Emmy, but he was too young, and a rotten sailor, and certainly not up to handling my beloved Mustard (although, after watching The Sea Hawk, I hastily renamed her Albatross). She was a twelve-foot, bermuda-rigged, carvel-built beauty, with red sails and a hundred fathoms of mooring line stowed in the bows; real mono wrapped up in fibre for safety, and I loved her more than... more than anything.
Mum gave her to me, the day after the night my first bloods came and I went to her room groaning and holding myself. I mean, I'd been told what would happen, but that didn't help all that much when it came to it. My insides still hurt like bloody hell and I still hoped I would die. But Mum gave me a pillow to hold and herbs to smell, and she wrapped her arms around me and we snuggled next to each other in her bed and although it still hurt like blazes I didn't feel quite so bad about it.
The next evening, after I'd get home from school and Mum had returned from the packing shed where she worked and we'd had something to eat, we took Emmy round to Aunt Agnes's to play with Jamie and Alfred. Then Mum, looking very mysterious, led me down the lane to the harbour. 'Wait and see,' was all she would say when I asked her what she was up to. I thought maybe we were going to have one of those mother-daughter facts of life talks.
We reached the jetty, where the fishing boats that had already unloaded their catches on the quay lay tied up, and walked all the way to the end. I was wondering why we had to have our little chat out here and asked Mum what the heck was going on. She just smiled and pointed down to the water. I looked - and there she was, bumping slightly against the wooden pilings, bobbing in a gentle breeze. I guessed what Mum meant straight away, of course. I'd always wanted a boat for myself, and she knew it. So I screamed out loud and jumped down into the hull and nearly tipped her right over. Mum sat on the jetty and carried on smiling mysteriously while I hoisted the mainsail - leaving the jib furled for now, for ease of use - and pushed the boat away from the post she was moored to. She caught the wind immediately, just as I'd known she would, and heeled over to starboard. Of course I was already sitting on the port side, so I knew she wouldn't drop her gunwales into the water and embarrass me by sinking at the quayside.
We'd have done rather better if I'd remembered to lower the centreboard first. We skidded sideways across the harbour instead of shooting forwards as I'd expected. But I let go of the mainsheet and tiller and reached over and pulled the lever that hinged down the centreboard and tied back the line that held it. Then I pulled the mainsheet back in, grabbed hold of the tiller and we were off! Gradually, getting the feel of her, balancing the pull of the tiller and the mainsheet, doing my best not to leave a wiggly wake, I steered us through the harbour gates and out into the open sea. I looked back and saw Mum standing on the outer wall waving to me. I waved back. She must have run jolly fast to get from the end of the jetty to the lighthouse point as quickly as she did.
We boxed the compass twice, and with every tug on her sheets and every surge of her hull I got to love my Mustard (that was the name painted on her transom) more and more. By the time I made it back to the jetty and Mum caught my line and hitched us up, I was besotted.
When I'd tidied Mustard up and coiled all her lines and got every drop of water out of her and made sure that I'd rolled up her (perfectly dry) sails neatly, I joined Mum on the jetty and she gave me that mother-daughter talk I'd been anticipating. Sort of, anyway. It wasn't about periods and boys, it was about boats, which was much more interesting.
'Your father wanted you to have her when you turned twenty-five,' she said, 'but I think you're ready now. But… there are conditions.'
There were quite a lot of them. I was not to go out in Mustard without telling Mum and another adult. I was not to take anyone out in her who was less than twenty years old or who couldn't sail a boat by him or herself. I was not to go out after dark, no matter how many worlds were in the sky. I was not to attempt to sail to any of the other lands in the Archipelago, not even the Ring. And - she hardly needed to say it, did she? - I was not to cross any of the barrages or go through any of the sea locks. If I infringed any of these conditions, Mustard would be taken away from me for an indefinite period. When I pointed out that I was an expert sailor and that all these conditions were unfair, she said that they were absolute law - for now. As I grew older and more experienced it might be possible to relax them a little. But for now - thems was the rules and I had to follow them. She called me Annalisa all the time she was laying down the law, just so I would know she really, really meant what she was saying.
- 0 -
I know what you're thinking as you read this story of mine, at a Monitor's screen maybe, or in a schoolbook. This is a cautionary tale, you're thinking. Annie disobeyed one of her wise Mum's rules and something terrible happened as a result. Just you mind, kiddies, that you don't make the same stupid mistake silly Annie made. Do what you're told, and you won't get hurt.
It's true, I did break more than one of Mum's laws, but I didn't mean to. I could hardly help it. And something awful - or strange, anyway - did happen, but it was nothing anybody could have predicted. I mean, how could they have?
Author's note: "Leaven" rhymes with "heaven", not "even".