Author's Note: There was once a Tumblr post going around about an asexual pirate saving his crew from sirens, and I was inspired. And then I saw another post about pirates and sirens so I mixed that in too. Please note that this was a one-shot with minimal revision and research, so I apologize for any historic inaccuracies present within the story.
The mead ran hot down his throat and it was glorious. Grinning, he elbowed his neighbor's arm away to reach for another coating of meat, and there were howls of amusement as the victim protested the missing food off his plate. It was moments like these that Alexander found bliss in his simple, crooked life – moments full of liquor, laughs, and merriment.
Piracy was a rough life but far from a lonely one.
Where some found shame, Alexander found pride in his status as pirate and pillager. What was there to be ashamed of? He was third mate to a band of worthy men and that night they were celebrating their success. He found no shame in that.
With a satisfied sigh, the man brought his mug to his lips for another swig of mead when a strong arm slung itself around his neck. Alexander sputtered into his drink. The offending youth ignored his discomfort. Tobias was ever so good at that.
"Zander, take a gander at her," the Tobias whispered, pointing to a woman sauntering by with dress hanging loose at her bosom. "She's a pretty one, eh?"
Alexander rolled his eyes, wiped the mug-splashed mead from his mouth. "If thou thinkest it so, then so it must be," he muttered. An unsatisfactory answer. The man choked as the arm tightened around his throat and yelped when rough knuckles found their way to his temple, grinding in with a practiced ease.
"Oh come now, Zander, don't be so starched!" Tobias drawled, relentless in his childish punishment. "We've got the gold for her. Why not give her a go?"
Grunting, Alexander pried away his shipmates hands. Ah, the peace had been pleasant while it lasted. He supposed he should be grateful that his fellows had held out an hour before starting up this discussion again, but all Alexander felt was lament for the mead that would go unfinished that night.
Thus, with a heavy sigh, the pirate drained what he knew would be his last mug of the evening before tossing it across the table and facing the conflict head-on. "I've said before and I say once more," he said, voice flat and even with exasperation. He looked the younger man straight in the eyes. "I've no interest in strapping a woman."
"Nor a man, Tobias. I shan't repeat myself."
"No interest in women, no interest in men, come, don't start this game again!" Tobias sang out his disapproval with a click of his tongue before rounding the table and flinging himself dramatically across the quartermaster's lap.
"Lige, do speak up!" he exclaimed, as if a mother overcome with concern for her babe. "He cannot go on like this or he shall fall ill!"
By then the other men at the table had caught onto the moment and snickers had spread like the plague on ship. Any eyes roaming the drinks or the women were now fixated upon the regular scene.
"What, Zander playing parish again?" "Quit putting on airs!" "Oh, Alexander fancies himself above mortal men. "Do ye think yourself a saint, Zander?"
The jeers had started up again and Alexander found himself sighing up a storm. The poor man sank his face into his palm. He had seen this coming. It was inevitable, practically routine. No matter how he explained, none of his shipmates would even attempt to understand that he simply had no desires for carnal relations of any sort. No, he was just the 'abnormal' fellow 'putting on airs', nothing more. He'd long since given up. And now any trace of earlier content had disappeared along with his smile.
Oh, how quickly merriment could flee…
His only solace was that despite everyone else's growing amusement, the quartermaster shared the same tired expression. At least Elijah was one companion Alexander could ever-trust. "Tobias," Elijah said, "Whatever thou hast misconstrued my role to be, I cannot force him to screw the wench." Crisp, conclusive words. Unfortunately, Tobias would have none of it.
"Nonsense, t'is simple," the rowdy youth exclaimed. Alexander watched with a deep-set scowl as the youth took up a brimming mug and threw it in the air. Mead rained down across the table. "Have him screw the wench tonight or keelhaul him come morn!"
The roar of approval and splattering drinks turned many heads in the tavern. Alexander was surprised the Captain didn't come rushing back from across the town to see all the commotion.
"Just screw the wench, Zander!" "Be there some reason he cannot?" "Are ye cowed by the fairer sex, Alexander?"
Oh for the love of all good and well, they'd started up this line again. And then there was Tobias, clinging to Elijah, leading the whole mob of them. It was aggravating, infuriating, maddening always. At that moment, Alexander felt as if he could strangle the cod-headed fool. In a fit of frustration, Alexander did the next best thing by darting forward and seizing the youth's ear. Oh how he relished the ensuing babble of pain.
His shipmates changed their target, crowing mockeries at the newest victim. "Bird-witted dandyprat," Alexander snapped, yanking Tobias off their quartermaster by the ear. "Is death a jest to thee? Shall I share with thee my good humor?"
"Ow, ow! Za— Alexander, stop—"
"Alright, alright," a rough voice, Elijah, joined in. He swatted Alexander's hand away from the younger man and took position between the two. "That's enough, from both of ye." Again, that should have signaled the end and Alexander gave a discontented snort. However, again, Tobias proved himself anything but perceptive.
"Lige, you see!" the youth shouted, oblivious to the quartermaster's worsening countenance. Cradling his abused ear, he shook a finger at Alexander. "Our third mate hath abstained so long he hath grown restless, just itching for a fight! T'is your duty as quartermaster to prevent such violence by any means! Force him if you must!"
"Perhaps thou shouldst worry first of thy own lack of conquest before worrying of others, Tobias."
There was a chorus of oohs at that, so well timed that Alexander wondered then if the men all shared one mind. He too, however, snickered openly at Tobias' stricken expression. Relief washed over him in waves – bless Elijah, his only comrade in this godforsaken crew. Finally, for once, Alexander could enjoy the evening from a spectator's seat.
"Conquest! You speak of conquest?" Tobias scoffed, face flushed from something aside of mead. "Just ask Henry of my conquests – he hath much to tell!"
"Wh— leave me out of this, you jackanape!"
The verbal skirmish escalated to a drunken tussle, and for a moment, Alexander thought the worst of it over. The man thought that perhaps now he could enjoy the rest of the night and be refreshed for a morning's labor at dawn. However, before he could finish even one mug of mead, a calloused hand clapped upon his shoulder.
"A word with thee," Elijah said, retreating from the table a moment. There was an odd air to the quartermaster, and uncertain, Alexander followed. They settled not far, merely the wall across their table, and here Elijah said, "I've been meaning to ask thee for some time now." There was a strangeness to the tone, something ominous. It was unnerving to see the quartermaster so hesitant and grave. After a moment, Elijah finally mustered the courage to speak. "Alexander, art thou a woman?"
Alexander blinked. Then he gave a slow, disbelieving narrow of the eyes. "What?"
Elijah sighed as if he'd expected such a reaction. "I've heard of incidents on other ships, of women donning men's attire – and this is no offense to thee, matey, for they looked the part and fought just as well as any man. It's simply that in the years I've known thee, I can't recall a single time thou hast bedded a wench on land or a shipmate on sea. Even priests break their vows, yet—"
"I am not a woman!" Alexander scoffed, appalled.
"Aye, I know – I'm simply asking to confirm, and I assure you, there's nothing wrong with—"
All Alexander could do was laugh, but it was all of exhaustion and none of amusement. "I am not a woman," he said again, louder, before reaching over and yanking his shirt over his head, throwing it down. "Three years, thou hast suspected me a lass? Begad, I sweep the deck sans shirt, baring my back to the sun when weather warms, and thou hast _this _long harbored questions of my sex? Because I don't partake in sex myself?"
It seemed he'd been louder than intended, for his shipmates nearby had fallen quiet. When he looked, Alexander was enraged to see that they were looking back. "Damn the lot of you!" he snapped, snatching up his discarded shirt and stalking towards the exit. He could feel his shipmates' eyes upon him as he passed.
"H-hey, don't be such a scot, Zander," one hesitant voice piped up. A mistake.
"I am not a scot!" Alexander bellowed before storming out the door.
That was four days ago. After he caused a scene, Alexander had stayed out there in the chill night until the Captain returned with the sea artist and a declaration that they would head north, which met no opposition. They set sail the next day. Alexander hadn't regretted something as much as that outburst in a long while because, for the next couple of days, the whole crew tiptoed around him as if he were a rabid dog.
Worst was Elijah, the turncoat traitor, who saw fit to apologize, then defend himself, then apologize, then repeat again and again in a never-ending cycle until Alexander finally lied forgiveness. Ah, Alexander had thought this new treatment worse than the usual taunts and jeers, but now that the crew realized that no, he was not going to hang them from the rigging by their thumbs, the usual taunts and jeers had started right back up and he honestly could not tell which was worse.
One particular irritation was the crew's newest game.
"Ohp, beg your pardon, St. Zander," Henry sheepishly said with a mischievous grin. Picking up the maps that had fallen in their collision, the other pirate quickly skittered back to let Alexander pass.
Alexander did not pass. He stood blatantly unimpressed. "I've no recollection of joining the church or clergy, Henry," he said, voice as flat as his expression. This quickly disheartened the other sailor, whose grin dissolved like salt in the sea. Uncertainty washed in to replace it.
"Hey, t'was not I to start the sport," Henry protested with an offhand shrug, but Alexander noticed how the man failed to meet his eyes. After a tense moment, Henry amended, "It… it just caught on is all."
There was more. Alexander could tell. Despite his age, Henry hid his discomfort about as well as a child in a bed of nettles. The man fidgeted uncomfortably under Alexander's gaze and lasted no more than three beats before stammering on, "A-along with a few other theories – just harmless theories, is all, Zander, t'was all in good—"
"Fancy yourselves thinkers now, eh?" Alexander said, dropping the crates he carried to the deck. Henry flinched at the loud clack of wood on wood, but Alexander didn't care. "What theories?"
"W-well, just," a shift of the eyes like the turn of a faucet and then words spilled out the mouth. "Just theories in jest, about childhood promises of chastity o-or a lasting trauma from an evening of bad fibers, or perhaps that you've named your hand and simply prefer its compan—"
"Where is Tobias."
Though startled by the hard words, Henry clenched his jaw and looked away. "I cannot say."
Quite fed up, Alexander seized his shipmate by the shoulder and drawled, "Come now, you've engaged in amorous congress once – that's hardly reason to shelter a slandering nitwit!"
Henry held firm a mere moment before heaving a sigh. He muttered, "He's meant to be lookout today—"
"Meaning he hath forced Damian to cover his post," Alexander finished for the man before breezing past his shipmate. With even gait, even on the rocking ship, he made his way towards the stern. "Affrighted of heights, hah! He's just a slug-a-bed is all he is…" As he expected, Alexander found Tobias playing cards in the forecastle with James, Thomas, and others who were actually off duty.
Any joke Tobias had upon his tongue withered away when he met eyes with Alexander. With a sigh, the younger man threw down his cards and his hands up into the air. "Henry, that jingle-brained twit. His mother fed him with a shovel, she did."
"Tell me, if not as lookout, how is it thou contributes to the workings of this ship, Tobias," Alexander asked, leaning against the doorframe with a glower and a scowl.
Tobias gave a dismissive snort, spreading arms in vague gesture. A smile spread across his face. "Why, St. Zander, I boost morale."
Moments later, Tobias was pleading with Alexander to release him, unhand him, "Zander, thou art choking me!" and similar outcries before, with little ceremony or remorse, Alexander flung him towards the main mast.
He observed with minor satisfaction as Tobias hit the wood hard with his shoulder, then turned to look up towards the crow's nest. "Damian, come down. Tobias has come to take on his rightful work."
A moment passed, then a moment longer.
Damian did not come down.
The two pirates on deck stood silent, waiting for yet another stretch of time, but even then there was no response. Tobias was all too eager to take the chance, spouting, "Well, it seems Damian hath taken a liking to the task! I wouldn't dare deprive him of his enjoyment, now, would you, Zander?"
Alexander held fast as his prisoner tried to slip out under his grip. "Stay put, you cod's head," he muttered before cupping his free hand to his mouth. "Damian, I speak as third mate. Turn shift, I'm sending Tobias up." He shoved Tobias towards the rope netting despite the younger man's struggling.
"I'm affrighted of heights, I tell you!"
"Up." That was the final word on the matter, not counting the sarcastic 'aye aye' muttered under breath. Alexander kept watch, as one would of a truant child, as Tobias begrudgingly began his ascent. Now all that was needed was for Damian to clamber down and then he could finally go about his own business and all would be well. Of course, life simply seemed to have other plans.
Far too quickly for Alexander's liking, Tobias was climbing down the ratlines, far more swiftly than he'd moved climbing up for that matter. "The fellow won't move," the younger man chimed, and had Alexander not caught the slightest inflection of concern in his voice, he'd have thought it another one of Tobias' ploys. Instead, the fact that Damian's response – or apparent lack of one – had managed to rouse that small shred of humanity that lied in Tobias was more than worrying.
Alexander shouldered past the other pirate, grasping the ropes of the lashing. "Not a step, you hear me?" he said briskly before ascending. He moved with a practiced ease and had an arm over the ledge of the crow's nest in a heartbeat. There, the third mate was perturbed to find the usually solemn and alert Damian instead slackjawed and blank. It was like his very soul had been sucked out of his parted lips.
Securing his grip on the wooden platform, Alexander hoisted himself up, jostling the lookout hard by the shoulder. "Damian, thou hast no need to remain. Tobias will take the watch—" the man was silenced by a finger on his lips.
"Shh," the lookout whispered, gazing out into the haze. "I want to hear them sing."
Bewildered, Alexander slapped the finger from his lips but fell silent, straining to hear whatever it was Damian had heard. The ocean wind whistled a hollow tune, but there was no 'they' to be seen or 'song' to be heard.
"I hear nothing," he declared after a moment, urging the lookout onwards. "Come, Damian, thou hast other work to—"
The third mate's words fell short when an elbow knocked his chest and he staggered back. The wooden edge of the crow's nest dug hard into the small of his back, sending Alexander's heart sinking like a stone.
"I want to hear them sing," Damian repeated, quieter, still staring away as if he hadn't just nearly sent a shipmate plummeting to his death.
Clicking his jaw shut, Alexander bit back harsh words, worry sweeping in instead. He slowly backed away from the lookout, watching for any more sudden fits. It seemed Damian was done for now. Still unnerved, Alexander retreated, sliding down the rope netting, ignoring the burn on his palms, and stumbling away to seize Tobias by the arm.
"He is unwell," he said. "I'll find Elijah. Keep an eye on him." With that said, he strode away with anxiety gnawing in his gut.
The lack of a mock-edged reply stopped him short.
He was met with silence, and when he turned he saw the younger man standing there, so still that, for a moment, he thought him dead on his feet. Alexander suddenly felt the northern wind too cold upon his skin. He approached the youth, waved a hand before his face. "Tobias, speak to me."
And speak Tobias did, but it was far from what he wished to hear. Glassy-eyed and smiling blithely the youth murmured, "I hear a song."
Oh, that set a chill crawling down Alexander's spine. With a glance up at Damian and then back to Tobias, the third mate shook his head. "What song?" he asked, throwing out his hands as if he could somehow grasp the idea of it. "I hear no song, describe it."
"They're calling to me."
"They all are." He could have struck the damned fool in frustration right then – tongue-tied and cryptic at a time like this? – but Alexander held back. "They all are," Tobias said again before inching a half-step forward. And then another, then another, until Alexander stepped aside, furrowing his brow.
"Where art thou going?" he asked. He had to repeat the question twice to pry an answer from his shipmate's lips, and by then, Tobias had reached the bulwark of the ship. "Tobias, begads, answer me!"
Tobias swayed on his feet a moment before closing his eyes, as if that made that soundless song clearer. Alexander went rigid as his shipmate pulled up a knee, lifted himself onto the ledge. "To where they are," Tobias said, and then he tipped forward.
"No!" Alexander lunged towards him, looped an arm around his torso, and yanked the lad back on deck. He fell hard on his back, had the wind knocked out of him. Tobias fought him, struggled, cried out to the air that he was coming for them, on his way. Bewildered, Alexander writhed out from under him and shoved him down before striking him across the jaw.
Tobias' head snapped to the side and he fell still.
Well, Alexander may have been thinking of slugging the youth all day, but that had been far from enjoyable. No, there wasn't a shred of laughter in him. This was all too bizarre – addle-brained and reckless as he was, Tobias had no lust for death. And though, as pirates, they all had a love of the waters, none of them longed for a watery grave. Yet, Tobias and Damian both, it was almost as if they were drawn to the depths, entranced by— he hissed in a breath at the realization.
"Tempters of the Northern Sea."
The third mate whirled around, casting up his gaze to the crow's nest once more. As he feared, he saw a knee on the lip of it, a hand groping air. "Damian, avast!" he called before sprinting forward. What to do – they owned no mattress, nothing soft – a hammock would be of little use from that height. Climb up and haul him to safety?
He'd never make it in time.
Alexander's stomach lurched when he saw the lookout tip over the edge. Thinking fast, he reached out and grabbed the rope netting, yanked it, prayed that all his bad luck in cards was to save his luck for this moment now – he gave a triumphant laugh when Damian's limbs caught in the rope, the man upside-down but alive. Of course, with the way the lookout struggled and writhed, it was only a matter of time before he fell and snapped his neck like driftwood. At least now Alexander had time enough to think.
What the ship lacked in soft materials, it made up for in rope. Alexander hastened to the stores, gathering a long coil of rope before rushing back to the netting. He'd been on the seas for a good few years now, but never had he been so glad to know sailor's knots.
A trip up then down and the third mate stepped back to evaluate his handiwork. Now right side up, Damian resembled a babe in swaddling clothes if, well, the cloth was rope and infants could look so blatantly smitten. Alright, so it wasn't a pretty sight, but if it kept the man from killing himself, Alexander wasn't about to complain.
About that, at least.
He had a word or two for the Captain about this.
Alexander turned on his heel, grit his teeth, and made his way for the Captain's quarters at brisk pace. He walked straight past the main hatch before realizing his mistake. In panic, he dropped, looked down into the gun deck to confirm if his shipmates were alright – but of course not, what did he expect. They were all pressed up against the wall, swooning over the silent song. Fortunately they were far too fuddled to think to climb up the ladder, and for a moment, everything was alright.
And then Alexander realized that the other side of the ship had stairs and everything was terrible again. In his hurry he near stumbled down the gaping hole of the stairway himself, saved only by using a timely shipmate for balance. "I'm coming for you, m'lovely songbird, I'm coming," said shipmate murmured under his breath, trying to stagger past the third mate. Going rigid Alexander tipped the shipmate down the stairs, ignoring the sudden chorus of cries.
At a glance, the third mate counted eight men that would be bruised come morn. "You'll thank me for this later, I promise," Alexander said flatly before kicking the hatch shut. Even through the wood, he could hear the men's groaning.
"They're calling to me—" "They sing so sweet, like a lass of the—" "Move, I have to get to them. I have to—"
That was quite enough.
He pulled away, trying to ignore how the sluggish clamor of his shipmates set his skin crawling. It was disturbing, to say the least, so Alexander reached over and dragged a barrel of rum atop the hatch. It was followed by four sacks of grain and perhaps even a strategically placed cannon ball that had been rolling around on deck. The impromptu barricade seemed stable enough, despite the suspicious crack that may or may not have been splintering wood. Well, they were all able-bodied men of the sea, and a little rum never killed any of those.
For once scrubbing his mind clean of any responsibility, Alexander walked even faster now, practically running, boots thudding heavy all the way across the deck until he saw the Captain's quarters. No time for courtesy, he barreled through the door, sweeping the hair from his face and rushing over his words. "Captain, we have to turn ship. Everyone—" he faltered. "Elijah?"
Instead of the rugged face of their captain, Alexander was met with the tired countenance of their quartermaster, hunched over the table. Elijah didn't seem well – he was rubbing at his temples with the heels of his hands in agony. The quartermaster looked to Alexander. "Sirens," he said, voice thick with pain. "There were sirens. That's why this treasure's untouched. The sirens… they're calling so… sweetly… ngh, close the door, Alexander, the door!"
Startled, Alexander slammed the door behind him. Elijah didn't even flinch at the noise.
"No, no… that doesn't help. I hear them in my skull, begads…" Elijah ran his palms down his face, not caring for once how his elbows rumpled the maps and lists before him. "How are you unaffected, Zander?"
Alexander had no answer for that, so he posed a question of his own. "Where's the Captain?"
Elijah didn't point so much as slump towards the bed, and sure enough, there was a figure cocooned under the blankets. "Either drunk off his arse or smothered himself in his sheets. You'll find no help from him."
Elijah winced then, clapping his hands over his ears. Despite the light from the lamp burning on the table, the man's pupils were blown wide. His voice was tight with restraint. "Nor me neither, I'm afraid."
Never had Alexander found their charismatic captain and competent quartermaster so collectively useless.
There was a crack from outside, too quiet to be close but loud enough to be trouble, and Alexander near choked on his own spit. "Stay here, Elijah, don't you dare leave," he said before sprinting outside, only pausing to slam the door behind him.
To his great relief, the hatch to the crew quarters remained intact. To his greater despair, he saw the door to the forecastle cracked off its hinges and the culprits nowhere in sight. Alexander stuck his head through the entryway to check for any others, but the galley was empty and previous card players nowhere in sight.
By then, half-curses were flowing from his lips in pairs. "Thomas?" he called out, running about on deck. "James?!" The deck was so empty, so quiet, where had everybody gone? How many had succumbed to the siren song and dove down to their deaths? The thought alone was enough to set his stomach ill at ease and— for the love of all good and well that better not have been James he was seeing sans trousers.
Dusty hair, wiry limbs, unsightly bite scar on the upper thigh… that was James he was seeing sans trousers.
"Pour turpentine in my eyes, that's what I'll do," Alexander muttered under his breath as he grabbed the closest item he could, which turned out to be a wooden bucket half-sloshed with water, but he could make it work. "And after that I'll fling myself into the ocean just to have some peace…"
Fortunately, James had none of his usual nimbleness in his song-silly stupor. It was quick and easy work for Alexander to step up and jam the bucket over the poor fool's head. Bewildered, James flailed before slipping on the new puddle on the ground and landing hard on the deck. The man seemed to be having significant trouble dislodging his head and Alexander noted with some alarm that if James was concussed, they'd need a new rigger.
Well, better off concussed than dead.
He whirled about, looking for a silhouette, listening for some other lovesick cry of admiration – he saw none, heard none, and there were still at least three people unaccounted for. Thomas and Portwell and the sea artist he never did learn the name of and—
Portwell. Oh, to hell with the captain and all the rest, he should have had the right of mind to check on the person steering the ship.
The sea seemed unusually choppy as Alexander rushed all the way back across the length of the ship again, or maybe that was just his heart in his throat making him dizzy.
As he approached the bow of the ship, he saw a silhouette standing at the helm, hands firm on the wheel – oh, thank whatever deity was listening, Portwell seemed unaffected. The man was on task, whistling tunelessly to himself, relishing the breeze. For how much longer, though. That was the question. Alexander stalked up to him, not bothering to mask his distress. "Portwell, it's too dangerous here. We have to go."
"Huh?" The helmsman turned so quickly he near whipped his face with his braids. His face was still streaked with evidence of his private affair with their jam stores.
On any other occasion Alexander would have chided the helmsman for breaching the code again, but priorities, priorities, the third mate let it slide. "Everyone's gone mad, Elijah included. Captain's useless. Something in the cliffs – this treasure isn't worth it, Portwell, turn hard portside and let us be done with this."
After a prolonged stare, Portwell shook his head, revealing his ears, and reached up for the wax stuffed inside them. "Pardon, Thomas was an outright ass with the fiddle earlier. What was that?"
Alexander cursed aloud and tried to grab the man's arms but too late – the molded wax fell to the ground and Portwell snapped his head to the right so quickly that his hair caught his eye. Apparently in his stupor, the helmsman felt no pain. "What a lovely sound," Portwell said as if he forgot how to keep his breath in his lungs. "Makes me want to just… reach out and capture it for meself."
And reach out he did, knocking the ship wheel hard with an elbow.
Between letting the boat drift slowly off course and letting their helmsman swiftly drown, Alexander chose the drifting. "Portwell," he pleaded, exhausted, because it was somehow so much more tiring to have to go through all this after that glimpse of hopeful normalcy. He was practically despairing as he looped an arm around the man's neck and staggered backwards. "Please, stay thyself, I'm quite sick of this song and dance, Portwell, I beg, just don't—"
Sticky teeth sank into his arm and Alexander gave a cry of horror and ripped his arm away like he would from a rabid dog. He was horrified at the red smear on his forearm and only half as relieved as he ought to have been to see it was jam. Seeing the helmsman now shuffling towards the ocean, the third mate panicked and tackled Portwell to the deck. Alexander sat crosslegged on his shipmate's back as he grimaced, wiping the gory mess of strawberry and saliva on his arm off on the helmsman's shirt.
"Aw, c'mon Zander, if I can't have jam, let me taste the song – so sweet, like apricots and honey—"
For some reason Portwell's enchanted moans made even less sense than everyone else's. Unsure of what to do and with dread pooling in his ribcage at the thought of leaving the wheel unattended for much longer, Alexander spit out the first words that came to mind.
"You can have the jam, just ignore the song!"
He was even more confused at Portwell's response. Even with jam-stained cheek pressed flush to the deck, the helmsman somehow managed to grin from ear to ear. "Aye aye, Zander, jam it is!" the man cried and Alexander slid off with a thud as the helmsman stumbled off towards the forbidden food stores. It was all too obvious that giving Portwell free reign of the jam, saved for special occasions, was a bad idea, but Alexander didn't have the time to dwell. Scrambling to his feet, the third mate scanned the waters up ahead for anything worth noting—
Ah, yes, those jagged rocks up ahead were just what he needed.
Now, Alexander really, wasn't one to curse nearly as much as the rest, but that wasn't because he didn't know the swears. Oh no, he was proving his knowledge now as he lunged for the ship wheel, reversed the wild momentum of the wheel with a bodily shove, and muttered a mob's worth of swears.
"… and just a whole platoon's worth of lily-livered sons of ghastly—"
And then he heard the song.
He could see them now, the spectres in the haze – shapely figures swathed in fog, dancing, beckoning. Their song keened high and quailed and swooped low and hummed, and it made Zander's skull ring like a dinner bell. It made him feel sick. This was what everyone was so eager to die for? This agony was pleasureful?
Thomas certainly thought so, seeing how he came out of nowhere and slammed himself into the bulwark. How Alexander didn't notice the hulking lug of a cooper was beyond him, but a now-familiar panic seeped into his bones. Thomas had a good head of height on him and twice the shoulders – if the man decided to jump, Alexander hadn't the strength to stop him. "Thomas, wait—"
Fortunately, a sudden gale caught the sails and rocked the both of them off their feet. Thomas fell backwards and Alexander fell onto his fleshy barrel of a shipmate gracelessly, elbow jutting into the fellow's belly. Thomas gasped, winded, and though he should have felt some form of guilt, Alexander felt only immense relief.
With an offhand 'sorry' thrown out in habit, Alexander stood up, brushed off his clothes and sighed. With any luck, the wind had pulled the ship further away and on the way out of siren territory. He looked up to meet face to face with a dripping white-faced, white-haired, black-eyed creature and screamed.
He jumped backwards, stepped on Thomas, slipped on the man's abundance of flesh, and hit his head hard on the deck. He had no time to relish the agony when he felt clammy hands wrap around his ankles and waist and what had he been thinking, hoping for luck – what about this wretched situation had made him believe that anything could possibly go his way? The wind had turned the ship's course straight back to the sirens and they were on the ship and – breathing in his face, alright then.
For a moment, repulsed, Alexander wracked his memory for any mention of sirens tempting sailors through means besides their songs, but then he saw the creases in the moon-pale face, the bared teeth, and he furrowed his own brow in exasperated confusion. "What's got you on the high ropes?" he muttered bitterly.
If the siren understood, it was offended, because it hissed in and then shrieked in his face. Alexander was sure he'd gone deaf and he saw bursts of light in his eyes. "Gah – get away from me!" he shouted, yanking his feet from the filmy grip and then kicking the creature off of him with his knees. The siren cried out and fell had to the deck, its milk-white skin and hair a striking contrast on the dark wood. Rising to his feet, the third mate saw that there were altogether five of them on the ship, all of them screeching their distress. He saw the shadows of several more on the rocks just beyond the ship.
There was a rising wail and Alexander doubled over, forced to clamp his hands over his ears. He was about to retort when a sudden thundering under his feet set his heart plummeting into his shoe. Really, even this? This qualified as a song? This horrid noise was making his shipmates beat down the walls? He needed to stop the sirens.
With his shipmates all compromised, there was no way he could take them.
The noise grew to be too much for him and Alexander's temper ran thin. "Look, can't we just talk this out?" he snapped, fully expecting a full barrage of claws and screams that never came. Instead, he was surprised when all the sirens fell silent and looked to the tallest of them, who put hands on her hips in an eerily human gesture. In fact, the siren itself looked human enough – blank of color and exceedingly beautiful, now that Alexander saw it without panicked fear, but human. For some absurd reason, that put him a little more at ease.
The tall siren jerked her head, telling him to go on.
Alexander stammered, "O-oh. Sorry, I just… didn't expect to get this far." A hiss. "Alright! Begads, you're volatile lot…" The threatening tilt of the head suggested that he ought to stop testing his newfound luck and just get to the point. "I just don't understand what you're upset about. If this about me not swooning at your song, I assure you, it's me, not you."
Stone silence told him he was wrong.
"Alright then, if this is about me keeping you lot from drowning my shipmates, let it go. You shan't have them."
It scoffed. It was that pure, universal, unmistakable toss of the head and sharp exhalation, and Alexander was now twice as confused as before. It nudged Thomas, unconscious on deck, with one pale foot and made a face in disdain. Some of the others behind it gave a titter that might have been a laugh.
Fear put aside, now they were really beginning to make him feel foolish. Despite the protest of his pride telling him to keep at this futile guessing game, Alexander knew there was no time and slowly shook his head. "I'm out of ideas. I've absolutely no idea what's got you angry now. "
The tall siren threw her hands up in the air because, besotted or not, apparently such ignorance was typical of sailors, and turned around. Alexander thought for a moment that she'd grown fed up and was on her way off, but that would have been too convenient a development. Instead, she extended an arm to point to the rocks, now close enough that the third mate could see through the mist and catch sight of the sirens on the rocks more clearly. There were several of them, all of varying sizes and shapes, but all bare and pale and lined up in rising rows, clutching scraps of wood or old papers in their hands– a familiar arrangement. He'd seen it before in his childhood, back in the larger cities.
This was a stupid explanation.
"Are you honestly telling me that you're a choir right now?" He saw the siren take offense and he shook his head, "No, no, I mean, a choir is fantastic, but I just don't see how it's reason to attack a passing ship."
With yet another exasperated sigh, the tall siren pinching the bridge of her nose before opening her mouth.
"Stop!" Alexander interrupted and though he flinched under the siren's inky glare, he went on, "Any sound you make seems to agitate my shipmates and I really don't want to fish them out of the water."
To his utter relief, though annoyed, the siren conceded. She held out her hands, mimicked steering a ship and suddenly cupped a hand to her ear. Swinging her arms, she mimed veering the ship off course, and to Alexander's amusement, gave a convincing imitation of the sound of wood splintering on rock. And then a very good impersonation of a conductor interrupted by an unpleasant surprise that had to have come from experience.
One way or another, Alexander got the picture. "You were worried we'd crash the ship and ruin your practice because that's what always happens," he said slowly, almost sounding it out to himself to make sure it made sense. It did, in a strange, absolutely ridiculous way. It still sounded like utter insanity. "Well why can't you just stop singing when you see ships approach?"
There was pure venom in the sirens' eyes in response and it made Alexander rethink his irritation.
"I'm sure you have your reasons," he amended, trying to steel his expression. "But, and I'm begging you, please, could you just hold off until this ship pulls far enough away? Or maybe sing extremely quietly – work on dance or mummering instead? It would be easier for both of us, that way."
The tall siren crossed its arms and twisted its mouth, seemingly considering this plea, but Alexander had learned by now to keep hope at bay. At the creature's slight shake of the head and sudden song to the sirens on the rocks, further away now that the ship had pulled past it, Alexander went cold. The ship was good as wrecked. A number of the sirens dove into the water, and he quickly began to reason out how many men he could possibly save in the lifeboat.
He backed away when the tall siren reached out for him. "Stay away!" he shouted, but the siren clicked its tongue in frustration and seized him by the collar anyway. It dragged him to the bulwark and Alexander sucked in a breath, expecting to plunge into saltwater at any moment. When the fall never came, he cautiously blinked open his eyes. He saw that there were sirens in the water– intimidatingly good swimmers , they were – and they had several others in tow.
Five men, unconscious with nasty bruises on their skulls. Alexander immediately recognized one of them as the ship's surgeon, glasses probably lost in the sea. Unbelievable. "The bastard told us he couldn't swim!" he exclaimed, feeling his rage rise with growing ridiculousness of the situation. Appalled as he was, however, the third mate acted fast and went to find the ship's fishing net.
It took a little effort, some maneuvering, and a lot of awkward interspecies cooperation for them to get the men back onto the ship, but they got it done. Ironically enough, by the end of the ordeal Alexander found himself thanking the sirens and offering a handshake once it was over.
Of course, human-seeming as they were, the sirens weren't human, so after a confused moment the tall one simply slapped her hand twice against Alexander's. "Close enough," the human said, pulling back. "So, uh. Just give us a quarter hour to leave, alright?"
One by one the sirens dove off overboard, but the tall one lingered a moment. It cast him a sharp look before going through a series of gestures, ending with a thumb across its throat before it dove back into the northern sea.
Alexander blinked at the absurdity of it all for a moment before rushing to the bulwark and shouting down to the waters, "I don't want to see you lot again either!"
There was a groan from behind him. Oh, good. Thomas was awake and sitting up, hand at his head. "Zander?" the man called out, disoriented. "What's going on?"
As the ship slowly drifted away, similar stirrings came from all around the ship, pained moans and confused mutterings. Alexander spotted Tobias wandering up, crying out when James poked his bruised cheek. When the youth caught sight of the third mate, he seemed to forget his injury, finding enough bluster to shout, "Zander, what in blazes is going here? Why is Damian strung up on the main mast?"
Alexander didn't mean to laugh. He really didn't. But when everyone crowded closer like this, one by one, some bruised, some stained, some slick with rum, and all of them completely unaware of the absurdity that had just transpired, he couldn't keep the chuckle from bubbling up his throat. That chuckle, mixed with his relief that everything was going to be okay, that everything was okay, set him laughing his lungs out.
Everyone stared wide-eyed as their third-mate broke down into hysterics.
"Is… is he alright?" Tobias stage whispered to Thomas, which really wasn't that quiet at all because there was a head and a half of height difference there and a 'whisper' had to be spoken to be heard, and even that was funny to Alexander now, and he laughed harder.
It was several uncomfortable moments for everyone until Alexander calmed himself enough to speak, face flushed and wiping tears from his eyes. And then he found his temper only to lose it. "There were sirens!" he shouted at them all, edge of his anger dulled by the laughter that still plagued him. "There were sirens and all of you lost your heads – wouldn't have minded being mauled by a shark if it meant you could hear their silly song!"
There was a burst of even more confused chatter now, and Alexander laughed even harder at their looks of disbelief. "Surely not – siren or not, I be bested by no woman!" someone piped up, and Alexander might have died laughing right there had a certain someone not stepped in. Elijah stepped forth, thankfully with some life back in him, and took to calm the crowd.
"It's true," the quartermaster said. "Alexander was the one who saved the ship."
Alexander felt that perhaps he should have felt offended at the number of protests that comment received.
"But how?!" "Why wasn't he affected!" "Aye, he's the lightest weight of us all when we drink!" "That's got nothing to do with it!"
More murmurs and more protests, and laughter was still ebbing and flowing out of Alexander in waves when an arm slung itself around his shoulders. "Come now, do tell," Tobias chimed in. "How did you do it, Zander? The truth, now!"
The third mate sighed and smiled at that, shaking his head. "I did it by acting as I always do," he replied.
"And what in blazes is that supposed to mean?"
Alexander took a moment, gave all the men a good hard look. Gesturing, he invited them closer to speak in hushed tones. "It means," he said, and to his great satisfaction, for the first time, his shipmates clung to the words like a man overboard to driftwood.
Then, still giddy with relief, the hero of the day gave a grin and slapped the Tobias heartily on the back, hard and strong enough to leave a sting for days. "It means I'm not slave to my lower half, you jackanapes!" he shouted, and laughing, broke off swaggering across the deck.