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art by Tais Teng

...And A Bottle Of Rum

Author's Bio: Melissa Mead is a member of the Carpe Libris Writers Group: carpelibris.wordpress.com Her stories have recently appeared in DSF, Bull Spec and Warrior Wisewoman 3.

The old man set the bottle in its stand, leaned back into his pillows, and sighed.
"Perfect. I've still got my touch."
A miniature skyship hung inside the bottle, sails turned to catch sunlight, a wizard perched on the crow's nest, following currents invisible to ordinary eyes. The old man had captured every detail, right down to the ley lines tattooed on the young wizard's aristocratic face.
"Uncle Jim!" Trampling footsteps on the stairs rattled the little bedroom. The old man steadied his glass treasure with a gnarled hand.
"Hold right there, boyo!" snapped the voice of Diego, his manservant. "You can't barge in on the Captain like a two-legged typhoon."
Captain Jim chuckled, picturing the boy's suddenly deflated posture as he mumbled, "Diego, may I please visit Great-Uncle Jim?"
"Let the boy in, Diego!" the old man bellowed, and coughed. He cursed and stuffed the stained handkerchief under the blankets as the boy bounded up to him.
"Hello, Uncle Jim! How's your cough? Can you tell me another Buccaneer Bloodstar story? Oh, a new ship! She's a beauty! Be careful of this one, all right?"
"I'm always careful, young Matthew. You don't master my craft without a steady hand."
"Well, the last two got broken."
"These things happen. Now sit down before I have Diego string you up."
Matthew scowled. "I don't like him. He looks like a pirate."
The old man chuckled. "That's because Diego was first mate to Bloodstar the Skyfaring Sorcerer himself, before I made a gentleman out of him." He winked.
Matthew glanced toward the hallway and shivered with glee. "Tell me another Bloodstar story. Please!"
"I might have the breath for one. Set this fine lady with the others. Be careful now!"
"It looks so real, I can almost feel the magic in it." Matthew picked up the bottled ship as though it were made of spun sugar, and set it on the display shelf with the rest of Captain Jim's fleet. Skyships sailed in their glass prisons: clippers and frigates and sloops, trapped in bottles of all shapes, some tinted smoky or blue or green. The new bottle was clear, the ship inside an impressive three-master with silver runes along its sides.
"This one's the Corona Borealis, isn't it, Uncle Jim? The papers said it's just like the ones you used to fly."
"It's an impressive craft, right enough. With cargo to match, no doubt."
"Where's the little brown one that used to be here?" The boy turned to him with a reproachful look. "You didn't drop that one too, did you?"
The old man looked away and rubbed absently at his arm. "Don't scold an old man for his weaknesses, Matthew."
"I liked that one. It looked like the Stella Minor--the skyship that crashed."
"Things happen," the old sky-sailor repeated. "Sit down and I'll tell you about Bloodstar and the Queen's Jewels."
Matthew sat on the pile of empty liquor crates by his great-uncle's bedside, listening enraptured while Captain Jim told how the fierce sky-pirate Bloodstar used his black magic to bring down the Queen's transport ship and steal the Royal gems.
"Rubies like a dragon's eyes, diamonds as pure as ice, emeralds as green as the envy of the other sky-pirates when they saw that shining hoard. The Queen's soldiers howled with fury, swearing that they'd hang that lowborn son of a barnacle yet. But they never did. Bloodstar was the boldest and slyest of the sky-pirates, and the law never laid hands on him.
"But you fought him!" Matthew bounced in his chair. "You said it was 'cause of you that Bloodstar never killed again, even though he got away."
"That I did. That I did." Captain Jim drew a deep breath. "Not that he became a good man, from what I heard. The lure of treasure gets into your blood." He coughed. "Run home, Nephew. You need to study if you want to become a pilot yourself."
"I'm at the top of my class in Telekinesis already. I left my books home one day, but I transferred them to class and Teacher never caught on." Matthew touched the bottle holding the Corona Borealis with a reverent finger. "I want to fly one like her someday."
"Well, get to work then, boy!" Jim shooed him from the room and lay back for a moment, wheezing.
"Diego!" he called at last.
The younger man came at once.
"Give me the Corona Borealis."
Diego picked up the bottle, and hesitated. "Captain, this one will be noticed. It's the pride of the kingdom."
"And loaded with enough treasure to send Matthew to any school my sister desires, even the precious Royal Academy. It's just a little telekinesis, and the cargo will be presumed lost anyway. Besides, who will suspect a bedridden old man?" He pushed up his sleeve and rubbed the crimson star tattooed on the inside of his elbow, murmuring soft words.
"Then let the crew die, Captain! Saving those spoiled lackeys on top of hijacking the ships is killing you."
The old man continued his incantation a moment longer before replying. "You heard what I told the boy. Bloodstar lost his taste for killing." He grinned. "But not his taste for treasure. Matthew will have opportunities I never had. He'll be a grand pilot--and he won't be beholden to the Crown OR forced to plunder for a living, either." He rolled down his sleeve. "There. Cargo's in our storage locker. Crew's on the ground, unhurt but confused. They won't be able to explain a thing. Give me the ship."
Diego handed the bottle to his employer. With all his strength, Captain James Bloodstar smashed his creation against the table. Glass shattered. Pent-up magic rushed outward.
Fifty miles away, the Corona Borealis went up in flames.
"I've still got my touch," said Matthew's great-uncle with a smile. "Perfect."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Author Comments

"Talk Like A Pirate Day," eventually got to me. But I wondered: What happens to the bloodthirsty buccaneer who actually makes it to a "respectable" old age?

- Melissa Mead
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