Chapter 4: Ghosts on the Ice
“MORE CREAM, MY DEAR?”
The woman, wearing a high-collared dress with a wide, billowy skirt, held out a delicate china creamer to the white-haired man in the military uniform sitting across the table from her.
“I daresay, my dear, these crumpets are your best yet.”
It was strange, he knew, to be here, having tea on the ice like they had so many times before. In fact, everything that had occurred since the little one had somehow brought them here had been exceedingly strange – a fact which he appreciated far more than his wife. For he understood perfectly well that they weren’t really here at all. They were dead. Utterly, absolutely dead. But the little one had been insistent that they were the ones who could show her the way to the Shining World, and somehow the sheer force of her belief had conjured them up and brought them to her. Now that she was gone, he had fully expected that their sojourn here would come to an end, that this world of ice and boundless sky, so familiar to him from his long exile, would dissolve into the mists of time and return him and his dear wife to their places in Eternity. But, mysteriously, this had not happened. Something was keeping them here, though he had no idea what it was.
As he reached for yet another crumpet his thoughts were interrupted by sounds which seemed to be coming from some distance away.
“Listen,” he said to his wife.
They looked out on the surrounding ice and saw a small figure racing towards them. They watched with bemused curiosity as the figure came closer and the shouts grew louder. Finally the running figure, a short, stiff-limbed creature wearing a black patch over one eye, stopped dead a few feet from where they sat.
“It is you!” she exclaimed. “I knew it!”
Everything had happened so fast that Peggy barely had time to take it all in. She had groggily opened her eyes, at first thinking she was back in planting camp. Then she felt some feathers brushing the top of her head and remembered where she was.
She rolled over and saw another pair of legs stretched out near hers.
She felt a ripple of excitement, feeling him lying there, so close she could hear the rhythm of his breathing. He was sound asleep, his head at the centre of the star-formation across from Gavi’s.
What was he doing here after he’d been so adamant about not wanting to get drawn in. How did he end up sleeping so close to her and the others?
Not that it mattered. As she looked around it was clear to Peggy that nothing had happened. They hadn’t gone anywhere. There had been no shared dream. They were still in Notherland.
Then the shouting started.
“Peggy! Peggy, wake up!”
It was Molly. She was standing by the shore of the lake.
“You won’t believe it!”
Without warning Molly bolted out into the water. Peggy started to shout at her to be come back, then realized there was a reason why there was such a chill in the air, and why the lake seemed so calm.
“Peggy, look! It’s ice!”
Something must have happened during the night after all. They were still in Notherland, but they’d somehow moved farther north.
Peggy watched as Molly streaked out onto the ice. Her shrieks had roused Gavi and Jackpine.
“What’s going on?” said Jackpine.
Peggy squinted, straining to see something moving far out on the ice.
“It is the Everlasting Ice!” Gavi suddenly burst out.
“Yes, and Molly’s taken off after something out there.”
“Don’t know. I’m going to go find out.”
She bolted out onto the ice, followed by Jackpine and Gavi, furiously flapping his wings across the smooth surface of the Everlasting Ice.
The white-haired man got up from the table and rushed over to the odd-looking child, enveloping her in a bear-hug of an embrace.
“Molly! Captain Molly!”
“Sir John! Lady Jane! I thought I’d never see you again!”
Molly was choking back tears of joy. Here they were, the great nineteenth-century Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin and his wife Lady Jane Franklin, sipping tea on the vastness of the Everlasting Ice, just as they had once before. Franklin, her beloved mentor, who had taught her the ways of the sea and bequeathed her his very own ship the Terror, re-christened the Resolute by Peggy. Molly was so overcome she barely noticed Peggy and the others racing across the ice a short distance behind her.
As they approached the table, the older couple greeted them warmly.
“I am so glad to finally meet you,” the woman said to Peggy. “My husband has spoken to me many times of your bravery.”
Peggy was completely taken aback. It was strange enough to find Sir John and his wife out here on the Everlasting Ice again, as if they’d never left. But even more disconcerting was Lady Jane acting as though they’d never met before this moment.
“I know that you were instrumental in releasing him from his lonely captivity and helping him find a sense of purpose again,” Lady Jane went on. “You restored my husband to me, and for that I am forever in your debt.”
As she spoke, it became clear to Peggy that the older woman was utterly sincere, and completely unaware of Peggy’s confusion. It dawned on her that this was not the Eternal who had assumed the form of Sir John Franklin’s wife in their adventures the previous year. This woman was Lady Jane Franklin herself.
“It is wonderful to see you all again,” Sir John was saying to the group. “And now I understand what has brought you here, and why we have been kept here to greet you.”
“What do you mean?” Gavi asked.
“The little one,” replied Sir John. “You have come looking for her, have you not?”
“Little one?” Peggy eyes widened. “You mean Mi?”
“Is she here?” Molly asked.
“She was. But not anymore.”
“Why not?” Molly cried.
Sir John shook his head sadly.
“Because we could not tell her how to reach the Shining World.”
Mi had been right. There was a Shining World that existed beyond the clouds, beyond the stars, beyond the RoryBory itself.
“But what she did not know,” Lady Jane was saying, “is that no one can enter there until their time has come to do so.
“You see,” she went on matter-of-factly, “Sir John and I are dead, and the dead exist in many dimensions at once. We are here and not-here. We are in Notherland and in the Shining World at the same time. But this was not possible for Mi.
“Nevertheless, she did succeed in drawing us all together again,” Sir John pointed out. “It was sheer delight spending time with the little one. She loved to laugh and tease us and play games like hide-and-seek. We tried our best to keep her amused. But we were too old and set in our ways to make good playmates, and after a time she began to grow restless. That was when all the talk of pirates began.”
Molly was aghast.
“Oh, yes,” replied Sir John. “Mi was very much inspired by you. She would say, ‘I want to be a pirate and have adventures just like Molly!’ She took to whittling an old piece of wood in the shape of a sword and brandishing it about. ‘Show me a sea monster,’ she’d cry, ‘and I’ll slay it!’“
Lady Jane picked up her husband’s train of thought.
“It was quite a marked change from the way she was when she arrived here. At first she had a very quiet, gentle demeanor and spoke often of how things must always be beautiful and everyone must be happy all the time. We tried to explain that even in the Shining World, life was not like that. Happiness and beauty cannot be willed into being, but only accepted with gratitude when they come our way.
“At first she was very disappointed to learn that she could not simply enter the Shining World at will. But gradually it seemed to assume less importance for her. She began to talk about how she wanted to have adventures, to taste life in all its excitement and danger. We came to understand that she was young and unformed, and would have to find these things out for herself. So we were saddened, yet not really surprised, to discover one day that she had gone.”
“But where?” Peggy insisted. “Where could she have gone?”
“We cannot be sure,” Lady Jane said hesitantly. “But we believe she may have gone to another world – a world in which she could live out her desire to be a pirate.”
For hours they sat around the table on the Everlasting Ice, talking and sipping tea. Peggy noted with relief that the terrible melancholy Sir John had carried with him for so long was gone, that the guilt he bore for the agonizing deaths of his crew seemed to have been lifted from his shoulders. He now exuded a deep, glowing happiness, and Peggy understood, without a doubt, that this woman was truly Lady Jane, the wife with whom he had longed to be reunited through all those years of wandering and waiting.
As the conversation stretched on into the evening, Peggy began to notice a strange phenomenon. At first she thought her eyes might be playing tricks on her. But as dusk began to settle on the Everlasting Ice, the Franklins, along with their clothing, the china, the very table they were sitting at, became hazy and insubstantial, as if they were dissolving into thin air. Peggy could see that, little by little, Lord and Lady Franklin were literally fading away.
She looked over at Gavi, and realized that he had noticed it, too. Molly was deep in animated discussion with Sir John, but the growing look of distress on the doll’s face told Peggy that Molly also knew that her beloved mentor was slipping away. For their part, the old couple radiated such an air of quiet serenity that Peggy was uncertain whether they were aware of what was happening.
Peggy felt herself falling into a deep well of sadness. She didn’t want the Franklins to fade away. She wanted time to stop. She wanted them all to stay here, enfolded in this circle of love and friendship.
The time came to say good-night. As darkness settled no one spoke, but they all knew that, come morning, Lord and Lady Franklin would be irrevocably gone. They would not see them again.
Peggy’s thoughts returned to Mi. They had to look for her. “What should we do now?” she asked the others. “Dream about pirates?”
“Not just pirates,” Gavi replied. “But a pirate world such as Mi might create.”
“Everything she knew about pirates she would have learned from you, Molly. What’d you tell her about them?”
“All kinds of things,” the doll replied. “That pirates were bloodthirsty, and wore bandannas around their heads, and stole whatever they wanted.”
Peggy smiled to herself, remembering how, years ago, she had christened Molly a pirate doll, by way of explaining the fact that she was missing one of her eyes and had to wear a patch over it. Of course, everything Molly knew about pirates came from the books and old movies of Peggy’s own childhood. So, she reassured herself, Mi’s pirate world was just an adventure story, holding out no real threat or danger.
As they all lay down again in the star-formation, Peggy turned to Jackpine.
“I’m sorry you got caught up in this. What happened? I warned you to keep a bit of distance . . .”
He cut her off.
“It wasn’t an accident. I changed my mind.”
Peggy was flabbergasted.
“I couldn’t leave the job of rescuing Mi to the three of you. You need someone who knows what they’re doing.”
Peggy turned away, seething with barely-contained fury. Every time she started to feel the slightest bit of warmth toward Jackpine, he had to go and say something completely arrogant like that.
He hadn’t changed a bit!
Chapter 5: The Pirate Queen
PEGGY ROLLED OVER and opened her eyes. In her half-awake state she saw a sky full of ridges in a deep, burnished brown. She looked at Gavi and Jackpine, both sound asleep, and Molly, lying motionless with a faraway stare in her eyes, appearing as close to asleep as a doll could. All three of them were still huddled together in the star-formation.
Go back to sleep, she told herself. It was dark. There was still time for the dream to come.
A sudden thought made her snap awake: That’s no sky!
She sat up. Just above her head was a low ceiling made up of rows of wooden planks. In the dim light she looked around at what seemed to be a large cavernous space. She could feel the gentle bobbing of water underneath the floor where they lay.
They were in the hold of a ship.
Carefully, so as not to wake the others, she slithered out of the star-formation and walked around the hold, crouching low to avoid banging her head on the planked ceiling. All around her lay a confusing jumble of cables, ropes, poles, musty-smelling sheets of canvas and stacks of wooden crates. Most of the crates were empty, but through the bars of one she could make out a pair of chickens clucking to one another. Beyond the crates was a collection of wooden barrels. She went over to one and peeked inside. The stench of strong beer made her turn away. She shut it and looked in another, which contained slabs of what looked like dried meat. The other barrels were filled with various things – salt, flour – but when she opened the last she gasped out loud.
The barrel was filled to the brim with coins, mostly silver, some gold, all of antique vintage, marked with strange writing and unfamiliar images. She rooted down beneath the top layer and found still more coins, along with what looked like bricks of solid gold and silver.
So the dream had worked. They’d pulled it off! She felt an initial sense of elation, until the thought struck her: what have we gotten ourselves into? This looked to be an authentic pirate ship, and real pirates weren’t known to be the friendliest people in the world. Particularly not to stowaways they found on board.
She closed the lid of the barrel. A muffled murmur of voices seemed to be coming from the deck above her head. A shudder went down her spine. She stood barely breathing, straining to hear. Loud footsteps thundered over her head, then faded away to nothing. For a few moments everything was quiet. All Peggy could hear was the sound of Gavi’s light, whistling snore and the rhythmic rise and fall of Jackpine’s chest as he slept.
All she wanted to do at that moment was crawl under something and hide. Why hadn’t she gone back to her own world when she’d had the chance? Planting trees in frozen, rocky ground, even staring down a bear was preferable to coming face-to-face with pirates.
But it was too late. The dream had brought them here. She had to find out who and what they were dealing with.
She walked stealthily past the sleeping trio and began making her way up the narrow stairway that led out of the hold. There were only a few steps to the top, and she found herself at one end of a corridor lined with cabins on either side. She stood, listening, but she could hear nothing behind any of the closed cabin doors. She ventured further, tiptoeing along the hall to the foot of another stairway that led up to the ship’s deck.
Peggy paused a moment, took a deep breath and began to mount the stairs. She found herself on an open deck that was wider and flatter than that of the Resolute. The ship had three masts, also much shorter than the Resolute‘s, each bearing square-shaped sails. The first sail was stamped with a black skull-and-crossbones. The one in the middle had a crest, drawn in red, of an animal that looked like a boar. On the third sail was an inscription in black lettering, in a language unfamiliar to Peggy.
When she looked down again, Peggy understood why the sails were so small. Both sides of the deck were lined with benches, with long oars resting on them. Clearly, rowing was the main way of propelling this vessel. Though now, in the predawn hours, there was a light breeze filling the sails and driving the ship, which was why all the benches were empty.
She decided to see if any of the others were awake and turned to go back down the stairwell when a voice startled her.
She whirled around to see a man in a ragged tunic with a bandanna wrapped around his head. He was moving towards her, brandishing a dagger.
“What d’ya think you’re doing?” the man snarled at her. He lunged forward and grabbed her by the arm, twisting it painfully behind her back.
“Wait! I can explain.” Peggy began.
“Save your breath! You’ll get what’s coming to ya!”
The man lifted his dagger and held it to her throat as several other men came running along the deck towards them.
Molly’s voice broke through the pounding of their feet on the deck. Peggy saw the doll standing at the top of the staircase, a look of horror on her face.
“Let her go!” Molly screamed as she ran to Peggy. One of the men grabbed her and she snarled like a wild animal trying to get free.
“What the . . .?”
Jackpine raced up from the hold just behind Molly. Two of the men pounced on him, pushing him face down on the deck while a third man stood over him, pressing one foot roughly into his back.
Now the three of them were surrounded by a swarm of men in bandannas, many with tattoos on their arms. One had a scar that ran diagonally across his lips and down his neck. Another had a peg leg from the knee down. Even in the heat of danger Peggy couldn’t help thinking that this crew looked like they had just come from the set of a pirate movie.
“Look,” she finally managed to spit out. “If you’ll just give us a chance to explain what we’re doing here…”
“We know what you’re doing here!” cried one of the men. “You’re trying to steal our booty!”
“We’re not,” Peggy insisted.
“We’re just looking for someone . . .” Molly started to say, but one of the men clapped a hand over her mouth and tied a strip of cloth around it.
“That’ll take care of your lies!”
The men all shouted as they gagged Peggy and Jackpine too.
“Let’s keelhaul ’em!”
“Throw ’em overboard!”
“Make ’em walk the plank!”
The men dragged the three of them over to the side of the deck, while a couple of others pushed a long wooden plank out over the water. Peggy watched in horror as two of the men grabbed Molly, still struggling mightily, and started pushing her out onto the plank when shouts brought them all to a halt.
At the head of the stairwell stood Gavi, looking bewildered and utterly terrified. The men all turned to look at him.
“Never seen one like that before.”
“Think he’s fit to eat?”
“We’ll find out after we deal with this bunch.”
Laughing, the men resumed trying to force Molly onto the plank but she put up a fierce struggle.
“Just toss ‘er overboard!” one yelled.
“She’s light enough!”
Two of them took Molly by her arms and were about to fling her out into the water when they were brought up short by Gavi’s high pitched wail.
They looked at one another quizzically.
“What was that?”
“It was I!”
Gavi’s voice wavered at first but as he spoke he became clearer and more confident.
“I beg you, please do not hurt my friends! We have not come to hurt you or steal your possessions. We only seek to find a friend of ours.”
There was utter silence when he stopped speaking. The men gaped at him, stupefied. Then an outburst of panicky shouts rang out.
“Is it a changeling?”
“Must be some kind of witchcraft!”
The man gripping Peggy whirled her around, grabbed her by the hair and pulled her face to his.
“Who are ya?” he screamed, his expression a mixture of fury and terror. “Some kind of sorcerers?”
“Toss ’em overboard before they start turning us into birds!”
The men pulled Peggy over to the edge of the deck, while they dangled the shrieking Molly dangling over the side. Suddenly a voice came thundering from the other end of the ship.
The men froze on the spot. All eyes swept down to the foredeck, in the direction the voice had come from. There stood another of the pirates, this one exuding an air of powerful charisma, wearing a long cloak bearing what looked to Peggy like a family coat of arms. The cloak had a gold background embroidered with the image of a large red boar, along with an inscription similar to the one she’d noticed on the sail earlier. The cloak swirled in the air as the figure strode toward them, and Peggy was struck by how the men, so fierce only moments before, now seemed to be cowering in fear. This air of authority, it was clear, had nothing to do with physical stature, since the captain – for who else could this be but their captain? – was actually quite a small person.
“What’s going on here?”
“We found stowaways, ma’am.”
Ma’am?! Peggy was flabbergasted. The captain of this pirate ship was a woman!
“Stowaways?” the captain repeated. “Or English spies?”
With that the men all tried to speak at once, bombarding her in a confused babble about the evil sorcerers and the strange talking bird. The captain heard them out for a few moments, then threw her head back and let out a hearty laugh.
“You’re telling me you’re afraid of a bird because it talks?”
“But ma’am, the bird might be a changeling.”
“Who knows if they have the power to turn us into birds!”
She cut them off and laughed again.
“What’s a little sorcery? Anyway, look at this bunch! They barely have the power to pull their own boots on!” She turned to Jackpine and yanked the cloth away from his mouth. “What are you doing on my ship? Who sent you?”
Jackpine glowered back at her.
The woman grabbed him roughly by the collar and drew his face to hers. “Don’t play with me, boy!”
“I told you, no one sent us!” Jackpine spat out the words in a fit of defiance.
“What’s your clan? Even that English scum Bingham wouldn’t be so stupid as to send a motley bunch like you against Grania O’Malley!”
Before Jackpine could retort again Molly began to grunt fiercely under her gag. The captain wordlessly signaled the men to remove the cloth around her mouth as well.
“You’re Grania the Pirate Queen?” Molly burst out, looking at the captain in wide-eyed amazement.
The woman went over to Molly and stared her down with a penetrating glare.
“Are you trying to play with me too, little lass? You know perfectly well who I am. Now, are you going to stop this foolishness and tell me who you are? Or would you rather I tie a stone to your feet and toss you into those waves?”
“We come from a place you’ve never heard of,” the doll said in a frightened whisper.
“I wouldn’t be too sure of that. Go on,” she continued. “Try me.”
Molly swallowed hard.
“We come from another world.”
At that the men burst into boisterous, mocking laughter. But the captain remained stone-faced.
“Quiet! All of you!” she commanded, then turned back to Molly. “What do you mean? What other world?”
“It’s hard to explain.” she began haltingly.
In an instant the captain’s expression changed. All the color drained out of her face.
“Now I know why you’re here,” she said, speaking barely above a whisper.
“You’re looking for that little fairy-creature, aren’t you?”
The swiftness with which the Pirate Queen’s attitude towards them changed was nothing short of astonishing. Only moments after they narrowly avoided being tossed overboard, the travellers found themselves sitting down to dinner in the captain’s quarters. All of it resulting from the mention of Mi, who clearly had made a deep impression on Grania.
“I’ve been visited by otherworldly spirits before,” she told them. “But never one quite like that little sprite.”
The same words, Peggy noted, the Franklins had used about Mi. Which meant, she could see all too clearly, that Mi was no longer here.
“She just turned up one day,” the captain went on. “We found her clinging to one of the masts. It was like she’d been asleep and had just woken up but didn’t know where she was. I suspected right away she was some sort of fairy-creature. When we asked her where she come from, we couldn’t make head nor tail of her answer. Something about another land with lights in the sky.
“Then she began to sing and I knew for certain she wasn’t of this world. A sweet and glorious voice, like the music of the heavens. Even my most hardened sailors were reduced to tears.
“She became a kind of mascot to the crew. She was all over the ship, always asking questions. ‘Tell you for a song,’ the boys would say, and she’d always oblige – even when they didn’t know the answer to her question!”
“But what happened to her?” Molly asked. “Where is she now?”
The captain shook her head.
“She just disappeared one day, as mysteriously as she arrived. Though I think our last raid might have had something to do with it.”
“Raid?” Peggy asked. “What kind of raid?”
She thought she spied a fleeting look of sorrow in the captain’s eyes. Now, for the first time, Peggy noticed the lines in Grania’s handsome face, which made it clear that she was no longer a young woman. A scar ran almost the entire width of her forehead. This was a woman, Peggy realized, who had seen much hardship and trouble in her life.
“It was a Spanish ship,” the captain replied. “The Santa Lucia. Things weren’t supposed to go like that. We thought we’d get out of there, quick and dirty. But the fools put up a fight, and things got ugly. Blood was spilled. The little one was frightened and upset by the whole thing. I think it finally dawned on her that being a pirate wasn’t a game.
“That night she came to me, wanting to know why such things happen. I tried to explain that life has its dark side. There’s pain and death and destruction and it can’t be helped. We all have to eat from the tree of good and evil in order to live in this world. She was quiet for a long time. But then she said the strangest thing.”
“What?” asked Gavi.
“She said ‘I want to eat from the Tree of Good and Evil, too.’
“The next day she was gone.”
All through dinner Molly had been itching to tell Peggy, Gavi and Jackpine about the Pirate Queen. As it turned out, she’d learned about Grania O’Malley from one of the crew of the Resolute, who told her stories of famous pirates to pass the time while they patrolled the Great Polar Sea. Later that evening, when they were finally able to get some time alone, Molly filled their ears with her encyclopedic knowledge of the life and times of the Pirate Queen. Of how Grania, as a child, had begged to be allowed to sail to Spain with her father, Black Oak O’Malley. When her mother objected that young ladies did not go to sea, Grania donned boys’ clothes and cut her hair short, which was how she got the nickname Grania the Bald.
Molly told them of how, as a youth, Grania climbed a high cliff to chase after an eagle carrying off one of her family’s sheep. Grania managed to rescue the sheep, but the talons of the great bird made a deep gash on her forehead, leaving the scar which Peggy had noticed earlier.
Molly told them of how Grania’s ship was attacked by Spanish pirates the day after she gave birth to her son, Tibbot. Hearing that her crew was losing the battle and she was in danger of losing the ship, Grania stormed on deck in her blood-stained nightgown, hair flying in the wind. Waving a sword in one hand and a pistol in the other, she shouted “Curses on you who can’t do without me for a single day!” The Spaniards, convinced that she was a fiend from the Underworld, immediately surrendered.
Grania, Molly told them, had four children by two husbands, both of whom she’d outlived. The family of her first husband, Donal O’Flaherty, had cheated her out of her inheritance after his death. Her second husband, a notorious pirate known as Richard-in-Iron, headed a fleet that reigned supreme over the coast of Connaught. After his death, Grania assumed command of the fleet under the O’Malley crest with the motto Terra Marique Potens, which meant, according to Molly, “power by land and sea”. It was this ship on which they now found themselves.
From the glow in her eyes, the intensity in her voice as she recounted the tales of Grania’s exploits, it was clear that Molly had met her idol. Here before her was this fierce, magnificent figure – the famed Pirate Queen herself.
“But what I can’t quite figure out,” she confided to the others, “is just how Mi ended up here. I’m sure I never told her about Grania O’Malley.”
“I believe you have the answer right there on the tip of your tongue,” Gavi said with a twinkle in his eye.
The loon nodded excitedly.
“’O’Malley’,” he pronounced the name with deliberation. “’Oh Molly.’ Do you see?”
Molly shook her head.
“What are you getting at?”
“I used the wrong word,” Gavi said. “What I meant to ask was ‘Do you hear?’ Listen again: ‘O’Malley’. ‘Oh Molly’. Do you hear?”
“They do sound pretty much the same,” Jackpine said.
“Exactly,” Gavi responded enthusiastically. “My best guess is that, in trying to conjure up a pirate world in her imagination, Mi would of course have been thinking a great deal about you, Molly, and your own pirate fantasies. She may even have called out to you in a dream: ‘Oh, Molly!’“
“That makes as much sense as anything else,” said Peggy. “As usual, Gavi, you’ve got it all figured out.”
The loon beamed with pride.
“Thank you. It feels wonderful to use my brain again!”
Grania had been eyeing them curiously as they huddled together on the deck, talking in low voices. Now she came over and caught the tail end of their conversation.
“I haven’t got the slightest notion what you’re all on about. But you amuse me. Especially you,” she said, turning to Gavi. “You bird-full-of-words. That’s what I’m going to call you: Bird-full-of-Words!”
It was going to be hard to get Molly off this ship. Peggy could see that clearly enough.
Grania gave them the run of the place, and made clear to the crew that they should welcome the strange visitors. But these gruff men were understandably wary of the two young people from another time and place, not to mention the odd-looking, garrulous bird who used words bigger than they’d ever heard before.
But Pirate Molly was another story.
By the middle of the next day, she’d gotten to know all the crewmen by name. There was Grania’s second-in-command, Conor the quartermaster. There was young Rory, a boy barely older than Molly herself. There was the old man with the peg leg who gave his name only as Blackthorn (“for the stick where a leg used to be”).
They weren’t all Irish clansmen either, Molly soon realized. Quite a few were seamen from elsewhere who’d joined Grania’s crew for their own reasons. Like Fernando, from Portugal, and Mustapha, an Arab from Spain who’d managed to escape a British raid on his vessel. When Grania’s ship came upon him several days later, he was floating in a lifeboat on the verge of starvation. He decided to join her, he explained to Molly in fragmented English, “because these Irish are the enemy of my enemy. And they don’t try to make me worship their Christian god.”
There were even two sailors – O’Boyle and McDermott – who wore black patches just like Molly’s. The three of them spent the afternoon swapping stories about how they lost their eyes. Clearly, for a pirate, losing a body part was a badge of honor.
Molly was in heaven. No, it wasn’t going to be easy to persuade her to move on and look for Mi. But for the time being it was just as well, Peggy figured, since they had no idea where to look next, or how to get there when they did.
One of the crew was pointing to a ship in the distance.
“Keep her to,” Grania ordered.
The helmsman shook his head.
“Wind’s gone down, ma’am.”
“All hands at the oars,” Grania called out with authority. “Don’t give them a chance to put distance between us.”
As they approached the other ship, she called out.
“Strike sail or we’ll send you to the bottom!”
“Who are you to order us?” a voice from the other ship challenged.
“These are the waters of Clan O’Malley. You must pay a fee for safe passage through them.”
“We sail under the flag of her majesty, Elizabeth of England. We know of no such passage fee,” the man shouted back.
“Then as of this moment, you have been so informed.”
The men on the other deck conferred. After a few moments one of them called over.
“We’ll pay your fee, provided it’s reasonable.”
“I’ll determined what’s reasonable,” Grania shot back. “What cargo are you carrying?”
“Just some barrels of cod, salt and alum.”
“We’ll come aboard and see for ourselves.”
“That’s not necessary.” said the other captain.
“We have to inspect your cargo to determine your tariff. Are you refusing us permission to come aboard?”
The captain hesitated a moment.
The quartermaster ordered the men to row up alongside the English ship and hoist the heavy plank between the two decks. Grania moved towards the deck and gestured to Peggy and the others to follow her.
“Now you’ll get a real taste of the pirate’s life.”
Still agile for a woman in her mid-fifties, Grania scampered across the plank with confidence. Peggy shuddered as she mounted it, recalling how close they’d been a short time ago to walking this same plank to their deaths. She turned to see Molly and Jackpine following her, but Gavi held back, reluctant to leave the ship.
“What’s the matter?” Peggy asked.
“I feel unaccountably anxious,” he replied. “I fear something will happen once they are aboard the other ship.” He lowered his voice. “They are pirates, after all.”
Gavi, she realized, had just given voice to the same anxiety she was feeling. She would rather not board the British ship either. But she felt that not doing so would look like an insult to Grania.
“It’s okay, Gavi,” she called to him. “We’ll go. You stay there.”
Grania looked back as the three of them mounted the English deck.
“Where’s your friend, Bird-full-of-Words?”
“It’s hard for him to cross the plank on his belly,” Peggy explained.
This set Grania roaring with laughter.
“A bird that’s afraid of falling into the water. Now I’ve heard everything!”
She ordered Conor to take some men below to inspect the various barrels and bundles. While she and the others waited up top, the officers of the English ship glared at one another, angry and impatient.
“Why are we doing the bidding of bandits?” one of them complained, but the captain quickly cut him off.
“Just be good little sailors and you’ll be on your way soon enough,” Grania taunted them.
Finally Conor and the men returned to the deck.
“Nothing but more barrels of salt, cod and alum down there, ma’am.”
“A rare thing – an Englishman who tells the truth. You’re not carrying anything else, are you? No gold or silver stashed away under all that salt?”
“Do I look like a fool to take such a chance as that?” the English captain asked her.
Grania smiled approvingly at him.
“You have excellent judgement, sir. Good. Our standard passage fee is fifty pounds.”
“Fifty pounds!” he objected. “That’s outrageous.”
“When we encounter difficulties we sometimes have to raise it. You don’t want that, I’m sure.”
The captain didn’t reply, but sullenly nodded to one of his officers to pay the fee.
As they prepared to return to their own ship, Grania noticed a pile of loose canvas stowed under one of the gunwales.
“Not the best place to store your spare sails, is it?” she mused to the captain. “Don’t you find they get wet?”
“Those are ones awaiting repairs,” he replied. “We’ll be storing them down in the hold when we’re done.”
“Perhaps you could let me buy some.”
The captain shifted uncomfortably for a moment.
“I’m afraid we have none to spare.”
“Is that right? Looks to me like there’s near enough to replace every sheet on your masts,” said Grania pointedly. “You won’t mind if I take a look for myself, will you?”
The air crackled with tension as both crews watched Grania approach the pile of canvas.
She poked it with her cutlass several times, finally striking something hard.
“Well now, what’s this?”
She tore away the canvas. Hidden in its folds was a padlocked wooden box. Grania motioned to her men to pry it open.
The English captain stepped forward.
“Wait, let me explain.”
Grania held up her hand to silence him as the sailors struggled with the chest. Finally they lifted the top. An audible gasp swept the length of the deck.
The box was filled with precious stones and jewels.
“Ho!” cried Grania. “Strangest batch of salt cod I ever laid eyes on.” She turned to the English captain. “You know this is going to cost you a bit extra.”
“Of course,” he stammered. “We’ll pay extra. We didn’t intend to deceive you.”
“Don’t insult me, British scum!” Grania lashed out at him furiously. “Yes, you will pay! With the entire contents of this chest!”
As she gestured to her men to close the box, the captain stepped forward.
“What do you say we divide it up, half and half?”
Grania threw her head back and let out a full-throated laugh.
“You really must take me for a fool! Why would I settle for half a chest of loot when I can have the whole lot?” She looked the captain fiercely in the eye. “You stole it, didn’t you? You were going to keep it for yourselves. So why don’t we just take it off your hands and keep you out of trouble with your superiors?”
Grania nodded to her men to take up the box. Without being told the rest of the men all took out their swords and formed a phalanx as Conor and another man hauled it to the plank. A tense silence covered the entire deck.
Just as the men were about to hoist themselves up onto the plank with the chest, Peggy noticed the English captain give a furtive signal to one of his men. Crouching, the soldier held up a knife, poised to throw it in Grania’s direction.
“Look out!” Peggy called out. The Pirate Queen ducked just in time as the knife whizzed past her head.
“Get ’em!” Grania shrieked.
Fighting broke out all over the deck, as some the men took out swords and daggers, and others went at it with fists. Peggy watched in shock as Molly pulled out her own cutlass, the one bequeathed to her by Sir John.
“Molly, are you crazy? They’re more than twice your size!”
“I don’t care!” Molly said as she bounded into the fray. “Finally I’ve got a chance to use this thing!”
Peggy looked over. Jackpine had picked up a dagger from a fallen sailor and joined the melee. He was going at it hand-to-hand with one of the English soldier.
“Jackpine, what are you doing?”
“What’s it look like?” he retorted.
“You! Take this pike!”
She whirled around to see Grania thrusting a long-handled spear at her. Peggy shook her head.
“No. I don’t want to fight.”
“You want to die? Take it and defend yourself!”
Reluctantly, Peggy took the pike from Grania’s hand and looked around in horror. Everywhere there was fierce fighting. A trickle of blood was leeching down the slashed neck of one sailor, lying pale and glassy-eyed on the deck. Another was gripping his thigh, trying to stanch the flow of blood where he’d been stabbed. In the bloody chaos one thing was clear to Peggy: the English sailors, outmatched by the fierce Irish pirates, were losing badly.
Piercing shouts drew Peggy’s attention to the foredeck. Grania was there, holding a sword to the neck of the English captain.
“Surrender!” she shrieked at him. “Or I’ll finish off every last one of you!”
The captain’s chest heaved with the effort of shouting.
“Stand down!” he called to his crew.
The English lay down their swords and daggers. But it was too late for many of them. Grania surveyed the deck, now strewn with the wounded and the dead.
One of the pirates turned a body face up.
“Here, ma’am. Dead.”
Grania’s eyes looked hard as flint as she turned to the English captain.
“Three good men dead. Even more of yours. Why were you so stupid? If you hadn’t lied to me none of this would’ve happened.”
She turned and made her way to the plank.
“Bring the bodies,” she ordered. “We’ll give them a proper burial at sea.”
“I do not understand,” Gavi was saying, “how they can be so wild and boisterous after the loss of their own comrades.”
He was huddled with Peggy in the small quarters Grania had given them below deck. Earlier they had stood at solemn attention with the crew, as the bodies of the three slain pirates were tossed overboard to their watery graves. Now, above them, the shouts and singing of the Pirate Queen’s crew, including Molly and Jackpine, was going on far into the night.
“I don’t think it means they don’t care, Gavi,” Peggy said. “It’s what humans call a wake. Sometimes people go on for days, drinking, eating, singing. It’s a way of coping with the sadness. You go to the other extreme and celebrate.”
The loon shook his head.
“No matter how thoroughly I study them, the ways of humans will always remain a mystery to me.”
Peggy winced as yet another jug went crashing to the floor above their heads.
“I just wish they’d quiet down,” she said. “I’d like to get a bit of sleep.”
“I fear that even quiet would not bring me rest,” Gavi said. “I simply cannot get the sight of all that bloodshed out of my mind.”
The two of them lay in the dark room for awhile without speaking. Finally Molly and Jackpine came in, tired but still exhilarated from all the carrying-on above deck. They leaned on one another, laughing and singing at the top of their lungs.
What shall we do with a drunken sailor? / What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
What shall we do with a drunken sailor? / Ear-lie in the morning?
Finally Gavi could stand it no longer.
“How can you two carry on like this? It was bad enough that you participated in their bloody exploits. Now you sing and laugh about it, too.”
Molly turned to him, livid.
“What were we supposed to do? Let them kill Grania? They had to defend themselves.”
“Molly, they are pirates. They steal what does not belong to them and kill those who get in their way.”
“It’s not like that!” she fired back. “They have a code.”
“A code of violence and thievery.”
“It’s their way of life,” she insisted. “If they don’t steal, others will.”
Peggy broke in.
“Look you two, it’s late.”
Molly whirled around to face her.
“I suppose you agree with Gavi?”
“I don’t think we should judge them by the ways of our time. I like Grania. But she can be ruthless.”
“When she has to be!” Molly broke in.
“You’re right, Molly. She has to be true to herself. We all do. And I couldn’t make myself kill someone in cold blood.”
Jackpine had kept silent through the heated discussion, but now his voice drifted from the upper bunk.
“It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve had that problem.”
Peggy sprang to her feet and faced him.
“And just what do you mean by that?”
“Nothing. Forget it.”
“You mean last year, when we were on the Terror with Sir John? When I couldn’t pull the trigger against the sea-monster? I thought you didn’t remember any of that!”
Now he looked her back in the eye.
“I doesn’t matter what I remember or don’t remember. All I’m saying is there are times when you have to fight back.”
“I’ll decide for myself when that will be!” Peggy shot back.
Her flinty determination rattled him a bit.
“Okay, okay,” he said. “I see your point.”
Finally they all lay down to go to sleep.
That’s about the closest I’ll ever get to an apology from him, Peggy thought as she drifted off.
She was glad to get away from that dark street full of shadows and strange noises.
The Stranger had brought her to this place, where there was a warm fire and more of the sweet things that made her tongue tingle.
She was sitting in a chair. Before her was a box with a glass screen on the front. There were moving pictures on the screen. One was of a girl, not much bigger than Mi herself. She looked right out from the screen at Mi, almost as if she was right there, within reach. But Mi knew it was only a picture of a child.
Now the girl on the screen wasn’t alone. Someone moved out of the background and loomed over her. A man who looked like the Stranger. He pulled the girl close to him..
Mi turned away from the box with the glass screen.
“Is the music going to start soon?” she asked the man.
Chapter 6: The Whale Requiem
WHEN PEGGY WOKE UP her mind was a jumble of dream-images from her restless sleep: Mi climbing up a tree, sitting on a high branch, laughing. She seemed playful and happy, yet the image left Peggy with a feeling of dread, as if some unseen menace was lurking just out of view.
Grania’s words came back to her:
“She said ‘I want to eat from the Tree of Good and Evil’.”
Mi was in trouble. Peggy knew it in her bones. They had to stop dallying here. They had to somehow find the way into the next world and get to Mi before it was too late.
She looked out the small circular window in the tiny cabin. It was still dark. She rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but it was no use. She got up and felt her way through the darkness out of the room and down the narrow passage to the stairwell.
Up on deck, she looked out on the vast ocean. A gorgeous pale-orange sliver of sun was just beginning to edge its way up onto the horizon.
“Early riser, are you?”
Peggy was startled out of her reverie by Grania’s voice.
“Oh! I didn’t know you were there. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep.
“I have that problem myself sometimes,” said Grania. “The crew? They sleep like babies. But we who have responsibilities don’t have that luxury.”
She leaned over the rail beside Peggy and gazed out at the sea.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” she said dreamily. “No matter how many times I see the sun come up over that vast watery horizon, it always fills me with wonder.”
They fell silent for awhile, watching the orange crescent grow larger and larger. Finally Grania spoke again.
“You don’t think much of me, do you? You and your friend, Bird-full-of-Words.”
Peggy shook her head. “It’s not that,” she replied haltingly. “But all that bloodshed yesterday . . . Gavi just couldn’t stomach it, and neither could I.”
“Out here on the high seas you do what you must to survive,” Grania said grimly.
“I guess that’s true. But I find it hard to accept. All the more because I do admire you.”
The Pirate Queen sighed heavily.
“You know, I wasn’t always so hard-hearted,” she said. “Unlike your spirited friend, Molly, I didn’t become a pirate because I wanted to go to sea and have adventures. I became one out of necessity.”
“How’s that?” Peggy asked.
“I was the good wife and mother, until my first husband Donal passed away. As his widow I was entitled to a portion of his estate. But those rotten no-goods, the O’Flahertys, said the laws didn’t apply to their clan. They robbed me of my rightful inheritance. They treated me and my children like beggars, and acted like we should be grateful for their charity. I put up with it for as long as I could stand, till finally I went back to my own clan. When Black Oak, my father, died, they transferred their loyalty to me, and named me their chieftain. Once I took command of his fleet, I knew that I would always be able to provide for my children, come what may.”
As soon as the words were out of Peggy’s mouth she wished she could take them back. But to her surprise, Grania’s reaction was calm and measured.
“I take payment from those who pass through my domain, in whatever form I can get it. Those fools yesterday tried to deceive me. They knew the chance they were taking. I don’t like killing, but they took the first shot.
“Call it stealing if you like. As I see it, theft is a matter of who owns and who takes. Like what the English are doing to my people. Bingham calls it diplomacy. I call it robbery.”
“Who’s that?” Peggy asked.
“Sir Richard Bingham, the lackey the English appointed to run Connaught. He’s already tried to put me away in prison once, but I escaped – right from under his nose! He’s still steaming mad about that. But he hasn’t heard the last of me, and he knows it. He’s stolen my land and my cattle but I’m going to get them back.
“What Bingham is doing to me is bad enough, but it’s happening to all the clans. The English are taking our land, trying to make us slaves in our own country. If we didn’t spend so much time squabbling amongst ourselves, we’d do a better job fighting them off. But we still have our language, our way of life. They can take our land and possessions, but they can’t destroy that.”
Don’t be too sure about that, Peggy thought to herself.
Grania look at her oddly, almost as if she could overhear her thoughts.
“You know things, don’t you?” she said to Peggy. “Things I don’t know, things that none of us here know. Just what is this world you come from?”
“It’s hard to explain,” Peggy began. “I’m not sure you’d understand.”
“Try me,” said Grania briskly.
“My world is . . . actually, it’s your world. But in another time.”
“What do you mean? What other time?”
“The future,” Peggy replied. “Almost five hundred years in the future, to be exact.”
Grania let out one of her throaty laughs.
“The future? You mean the time yet to come?”
“That makes no sense!” Grania roared. “I can believe you’re from the spirit world. There are other realms, other worlds all around us, I know that. But a time that hasn’t happened yet? You’re fooling with me, girl!”
“It might seem that way,” said Peggy. “But what I’m saying is true.”
Grania stared hard at the sea, as if she were trying to grasp the startling newness of what she was hearing.
“Imagine,” she said. “To know the time beyond my death. To know the world long after the world I know is gone. It’s more than the mind can grasp. I’m not sure we are meant to know such things.”
She turned back to Peggy with a look of urgency.
“But I do want to know! Tell me about your time. Is life easier?”
Now it was Peggy’s turn to be startled.
“I suppose you could say that,” she replied. “We have machines that do a lot of work for us.”
“That’s not what I mean!”? Grania interrupted her testily. “I want to know if there’s less pain and suffering. Do people have to fight as hard to survive as they do now?”
“Some do. If they’re poor.”
“So there are still rich and poor?”
“Oh, yes,” Peggy replied. “But where I live there are a lot more people we call ‘well-off’. They’re almost as comfortable as the wealthy.”
“Are they happy? Those well-off ones?”
“Some of them are. Some aren’t,” Peggy said. “What is happiness, anyway? Who’s happy? Are you?”
Grania fell silent again and turned back to the sea.
“An easier life, eh? I wouldn’t mind living in your time, being one of those well-off people.”
Peggy shook her head and smiled at Grania.
“I can’t see it. You’re a clan chieftain, a pirate queen. I think you’d be bored.”
“Don’t be so sure, lass. I’m ready for a more peaceful life. I’ve seen over fifty winters pass by. My three sons and my daughter Margaret are all grown.”
“Margaret?” said Peggy. “That’s my name too. Peggy is my nickname.”
“Is that so?” Grania looked at her with a softer smile than Peggy had seen before.
“Soon I’ll be giving up this pirate’s life,” she went on. “Once I take back what’s rightfully mine from that blackguard Bingham, I’ll go home to Clare Island. There I’ll settle down and live the comfortable life.”
The sun was now well up over the horizon. Peggy felt a quiet kinship with the Pirate Queen as they stood looking out on the sea. She reminded herself that they still had to find Mi, and that she was no closer to figuring out how to do that. Her thoughts were interrupted by shouts from the foredeck.
“Small craft ahead!”
Grania looked out where the sailor was pointing.
“That’s one of the boats from Clare Island,” she said. “Something’s wrong!”
She raced along the deck, followed by Peggy. The crew was already clustered together by the time the smaller boat pulled alongside with two men in it.
“Ma’am!” one of them called out to Grania.
“Finbar! What happened? Why are you here?” Grania’s voice grew more frantic with each phrase. “Where’s Owen? Where’s my son?”
“Back on Clare Island. Bingham’s men arrived yesterday, demanding to be put up for the night. Owen was worried. He sent us to get you, just in case he needed reinforcements. Got here as fast as we could, ma’am. We rowed right through the night.”
The Pirate Queen swung around and bellowed the length of the ship.
“All hands on deck! North to Clare Island! Row, I say! Row!”
All through the journey to Clare Island Grania frantically paced the deck, pumping Finbar with questions.
“What was happening when you left?”
“Owen played them like a harp master. He wined and dined them, acting humble, calling him ‘my Lord’. Bingham fell for it!”
“Did Bingham’s men see you leave?”
“Oh, no, ma’am. We were very careful about that.”
“But they knew Owen had very few men with him. That’s why they showed up when they did. I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all.”
“Don’t worry, ma’am. You raised Owen to be smart and tough. He can handle Bingham. He’ll be all right.”
A shout came from the foredeck.
They looked out. In the distance Peggy could make out the heather and bracken-covered hills of Clare Island.
“We better come round from the west side,” Grania said. “That way we’ll be hidden, they won’t see our approach. I want to take Bingham completely by surprise. I’ll make him my hostage. Another weapon in my war to get back what he’s stolen from me.”
By now Gavi, Molly and Jackpine had come up on deck with the others. Gavi was even more perturbed than he had been the night before.
“I am fearful there will be more bloodshed,” he said.
“That’s not what Grania wants,” Peggy told him. “I had a long talk with her. She says she wants peace and I believe her. She’s going take Bingham hostage, that’s all.”
Gavi remained unconvinced and Peggy didn’t know what else she could say to calm his worries.
As the ship approached Clare Island and dropped anchor, Grania motioned them to follow her into a dinghy.
“Come along,” she whispered. “I want you to see Clare Castle, the home of my ancestors. If we handle this right and take them by surprise, there will be no bloodshed, not on our part. I promise you.”
The small boats set out, and they all filed out quickly and quietly when they reached shore. As they approached the estate from behind, they looked out on the dock in front of the manor. Finbar gasped in shock.
“It’s not here!”
“Bingham’s ship. It was anchored there when we set out. They must be gone.”
“God knows what Owen had to give them to make them leave,” Grania said testily.
They approached the manor and entered. Inside there was an eerie silence.
“Owen?” Grania called out. “Owen? Where is everyone?”
They entered the empty Great Hall. Peggy saw the look of taut worry on Grania’s face and knew the Pirate Queen was bracing herself for the worst.
“They’ve kidnapped him. They’ve taken my son hostage! If they so much as harm a hair on Owen’s head . . .”
There was a piercing scream. One of the crew came out of the chamber just off the Great Hall. Grania ran to him.
“What is it?”
“Ma’am, don’t go in there.”
“Get out of my way!”
“No, please . . .”
They all raced into the chamber. The body of a young man lay in a pool of blood, his clothing torn with stab wounds.
Grania dropped to her knees next to him.
“Owen. No. Not my beautiful Owen. No. No. No.”
The Pirate Queen fell on his body with a shrieking sob which dropped to a low keening, then rose to a terrible crescendo of wailing.
Clare Island rang through the night with the heart-rending sound of Grania keening over the body of Owen. When anyone tried to approach her, she tore into them with savage fury.
“Leave me alone! Go away!”
Molly, especially, was distressed to see the great Pirate Queen brought so low.
“What can we do?” she asked the others.
Finally, at dawn, the keening stopped.
The chilling silence that followed was almost worse. It went on so long Peggy and the others began to fear for Grania herself. Finally Grania emerged from the chamber, bearing the bloodied body of her son. The men rushed to help her, but she motioned them away with a tilt of her head.
Without uttering a sound, she carried Owen through the Great Hall and laid him on the long wooden banquet table.
“Begin the preparations for burial,” was all she said.
All the next day they worked feverishly. Grania had decided that Owen would be buried at sea, in the way of her ancestors. His body would be placed in a wooden casket with his sword and pulled by sledge up to the great cliff of Clare Island. There it would be pushed off to plunge into the roiling waters of the Irish Sea.
Overseeing the burial preparations seemed to take Grania out of her grief. She bustled about, barking orders, pronouncing a piece of wood too warped for the casket, an article of clothing not majestic enough for the burial robes of a clan prince. She seemed almost like her old self, but Peggy could see an emptiness in her eyes, as if she was present in body only.
There was no reaching her now, Peggy knew. The bond of familiarity that had begun to form between them was gone. The Pirate Queen had descended to a place of grief where none choose to go, and from which few return.
At sunset everything was ready. A huge bonfire was built on the cliff and the men bore the casket up the path, followed by a procession led by Grania. At the cliff’s edge, one of the pirates sang a haunting requiem in Gaelic. When he finished, Peggy instinctively reached into her pocket, pulled out the bone flute and began to play. However the little flute might have let them down up till now, at this moment it made an achingly beautiful sound that seemed to carry them all to a realm beyond time and space.
As the men prepared to release the casket, their attention was drawn to a strange sound far out on the water.
“What’s that?” Jackpine asked.
“It sounds like singing,” Gavi offered.
Peggy continued to play the bone flute, but stopped after a moment.
“It is singing,” she said. “And I could swear they’re trying to sing along with me. They’re following my melody.”
“Look!” one of the pirates cried, pointing out into the water.
Large grey mounds, perhaps two dozen in all, dotted the surface of the water. They approached closer and closer to the cliff, until Peggy thought she could make out eyes on either side of each one.
She resumed playing, and the voices grew louder and louder. No one said a word, but they all seemed to grasp what was happening at that moment.
The whales were singing. Not just calling. Not just making sounds. Singing.
It was like the sea itself was offering up a requiem for Owen.
The men hoisted the casket out to the edge of the cliff, pushed and watched it plunge through the air as the chorus of whale voices rose to a crescendo. Finally the casket hit the water with a powerful spray in all directions.
At that moment, the whale song stopped as abruptly as it had begun. Silently, the great mammals swam off into the night.
Through it all, Grania the Pirate Queen stood tall, silent, still as a stone, her face a hardened mask of grief.
That night, around the fire, the men could talk of nothing else but the remarkable visitation by the whales.
“Twenty years at sea and I never seen anything like it.”
“Never heard anything like it neither.”
“Must’ve been fairies.”
“Or water sprites.”
“Whatever they were, they couldn’t have been ordinary humpbacks.”
“Nope. Whales don’t sing.”
“But they do,” Gavi broke in.
Some of the men laughed while others sputtered in disbelief.
“It is true,” Gavi assured them. “The instinct for music exists throughout nature. Humpback whales, in particular, have a highly evolved musical sense. You might say they have a ‘good ear’. That is why they came. They were drawn by the music of the bone flute.”
Peggy couldn’t help smiling as the men’s eyes widened in amazement. They couldn’t get over this learned creature, this Bird-full-of-Words.
Peggy glanced over at Grania as she stood by herself, looking out over the water. She thought about what she’d heard the men saying – that once Grania was back to being herself again, Owen’s death would be avenged and blood would run like water through Connaught. But to Peggy, the blazing light of the fire only highlighted the deeply-etched lines of sorrow on the Pirate Queen’s face. Until now she had exuded a fearsome air and everyone had kept out of her way. But at this moment she seemed softer, frailer, as if she had, at least in some small measure, returned to the land of the living.
Peggy knew that at some point soon she’s have to tell the older woman that they must be on their way, and continue their search for Mi. But now was not the time, she decided.
She got up from the circle around the fire and walked over to Grania, who fixed her with a penetrating gaze.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you?” she said.
Taken aback, Peggy could only nod.
“Where will you go?”
“I keep having dreams about Mi, and I’m worried she’s in more danger as time goes on. But I don’t know how we’re going to find her. I can’t figure out where to go next.”
“You’ll find the way,” said Grania. “Because you have to.”
“Just as you have to avenge Owen?” Peggy asked.
Grania nodded, a faraway look in her eyes.
“I have outlived parents, brothers, and two husbands. But to outlive your own child is death-in-life. Bingham can take nothing more from me. I have nothing left to lose. But he will pay. I vow it.”
She turned back to Peggy.
“As for your little one, she must be saved. You must find her.”
To Peggy’s surprise, the Pirate Queen lightly touched her on the head.
“Now go, Margaret,” she said.
Peggy felt the warmth of Grania’s hand ripple down the back of her neck. It had been a long time, she realized, since she’d been called by her full name, the way her own mother used to.
Peggy told the others they would have to leave the Pirate Queen’s world.
“When?” Molly asked anxiously.
“Tonight,” Peggy said firmly.
Molly looked stricken at her reply.
“Molly, I know how you feel about Grania and being a pirate. But we can’t stay here any longer. Mi’s in trouble, I’m sure of it.”
“How can we go,” Gavi said, “when we do not even know where we are going?”
“We may not know exactly where we’re going,” Peggy admitted. “But I have an idea of what we should be looking for.”
She took a deep breath.
“The Tree of Good and Evil.”
“The Tree of Good and Evil?” For once Gavi was caught completely off guard. “I have never heard of such a thing. What is it?”
“I don’t know, exactly. I’m not even sure there is a Tree of Good and Evil. But Mi thinks there is, and I suspect she’s gone off to find it.”
“It’s just a hunch. Remember what Grania said about Mi just before she disappeared? That she said something about wanting to eat from the Tree of Good and Evil?”
“But that is not enough for us to go on! I need more time to figure the rest of it out properly.”
“There isn’t time, Gavi. Mi’s in trouble. Anyway,” said Peggy. “It’s not really up to you to figure everything out.”
Gavi look at her, nonplussed. “Really?” he asked. Clearly this was an idea the philosopher-loon had never seriously considered.
“Yes, really,” Peggy replied. “All you can do is your best. That’s all any of us can do. “
He continued to ponder Peggy’s response.
“Something in me resists admitting you might be right,” he said. “Yet at the same time I feel oddly comforted by the thought that I am not responsible for solving every problem.”
“So,” Peggy said. “Are we going to dream ourselves off this Island and go look for the Tree of Good and Evil?”
She was careful to appear to be speaking to all three of them. But in truth, it was Jackpine to whom she was directing the question. Given all his initial anger and reluctance, she was amazed he’d come this far with them. She realized that she’d been bracing herself all night for the likelihood that he’d decide not to continue on, and go back to his own life.
So she was caught off guard when he responded with a casual “Sure.”
Peggy looked at him.
“Really? You’re not going back?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“I have no idea how to get back on my own. I’ve come this far. It looks like I’m along for the whole ride.”
“That’s great,” she said, still disconcerted that he was staying, that her fears weren’t coming to pass.
“Excellent!” Gavi echoed her. “Let us make our star-formation and see where our journey takes us.”
As he and Jackpine prepared to lie down, Peggy noticed Molly hanging back.
“What’s wrong, Molly?” she asked.
The doll turned to face the three of them with a strained expression.
“I’m not going.”
“Molly, what are you talking about?” Gavi sputtered.
“Just what I said. I’m not going with you tonight.”
“I’m staying here,” she replied. “With Grania and the crew.”
“How can you even thinking about that?” Gavi demanded. “There will be a bloodbath and you will be caught right in the middle of it!”
Without answering, the doll did something that made them all reel in shock. Lifting her eyepatch, she plucked her own eye out of its socket and held it out to Peggy.
“Here,” she said brusquely. “You’re going to need this more than I will.”
Peggy shook her head in a fierce refusal.
“No,” she told Molly. “I won’t take it. I can’t. “
“Don’t be stupid,” Molly insisted.
But Peggy was adamant.
“The Aya is yours.”
“If that’s the way you want it,” said Molly, pulling her hand back, “fine. But I’m staying.”
“Why, Molly? It’s not your fight!”
“It is now,” she replied. “Don’t you see? Ever since you told me I was a pirate, I’ve been looking for a way to really experience life as one. Now I’ve found it. Grania is everything I’ve ever wanted to be. I want to stay here and fight by her side.”
She turned to Gavi.
“You went off to experience life as a flesh-and-blood loon. Is it wrong for me to want to live out my dream, too?”
“Even if it means shedding blood, taking the lives of others?”
“I’m not the only one who’s taken life!” Molly retorted.
Gavi turned away, a look of deep shame on his face.
“Just how long do you plan to stay here?” Peggy asked.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? What does that mean? Are you ever going back to Notherland? What about the Nordlings?”
“I don’t know the answer to that! I wish I did!” the doll cried impatiently. “All I know is what I have to do right now.”
Jackpine, who’d been silent till now, spoke up.
“She’s right. Sometimes people have to do what they’re called to do. Even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. We don’t have the right to judge Molly. She’s our friend. We just have to stand aside and let her do it.”
Listening to Jackpine, Peggy wanted to scream, and the fact that she knew in her bones that he was right only made her frustration worse. Molly had been her doll when she was a little girl. When Molly’s eye had gone missing, she’d covered it with a black patch and pronounced her a pirate. Then, when Peggy found the eye that strange day in Green Echo Park, she’d discovered that it had acquired remarkable powers. It had become an Aya, an all-seeing eye, which had lit their way through the darkness of the Hole at the Pole, and ultimately destroyed the evil Nobodaddy. The last thing Peggy had done when she departed Notherland the year before was to press the Aya into Molly’s hand.
After all they’d been through together, how could Molly do this? How could she abandon them?
“It won’t be forever,” Molly said, looking at her pleadingly. “At least I don’t think it will. I just want to stay as long as Grania needs me.”
“Then I guess there’s nothing more to say,” Peggy said coldly.
“Good-bye, Molly” Gavi said in a mournful tone. “Till we meet again.”
The doll hugged Gavi and Jackpine. But Peggy turned away.
“Please, Peggy,” Gavi pleaded. “It is never good to part on bad terms.”
Reluctantly she held out her hand and gave Molly’s a cursory squeeze. But she couldn’t bring herself to say good-bye. As she watched the doll walk away alone, Peggy had the fleeting impression that Molly looked slightly taller than before.
As they all lay down to sleep, Peggy’s heart was still heavy with bitterness.
If she doesn’t care about us, then I don’t care about her.
She didn’t like this place. The Stranger didn’t seem so nice anymore.
Mi wished she had never left Notherland.
She thought of Molly, who had always been fiercely protective of her and the other Nordlings, and of Gavi, whom she missed with a terrible ache since he’d left to go to the land of the Creator. In her mind, she fought to keep the image of their faces, the two people she loved most in all the universes, to try and drive out the pictures she was seeing on the screen.