CHAPTER 19: We're Rascals and Scoundrels, We're Villains
Pirate Cove was exactly how Lola remembered it—except for small traces of new damage. A few bandaged pirates were singing as they worked—and more than a few were drinking. Their singing wasn’t joyful; it was resigned. Even those emptying rum bottles were unsmiling and lifeless. Now restored to full size Lola couldn’t communicate with Blinker in the traditional sense, but when Lola asked, “Why is this happening?” Blinker wrote one word in the sand, “Pan.” The arch of Blinker’s thin, long brow made it clear that Lola should have known. Lola thought about explaining herself, that she meant why were the pirates being targeted so severely. The pirates’ homes and their ships were a part of Pan’s war game and from the feverish joy she’d seen on the Lost Boys’ faces—and how the fever had infected her brothers—war was Pan’s favourite game. But why did Pan target the pirates and not any other creature on the island? Did Pan hate the pirates that much?
No. It wasn’t the pirates that drew Pan here again and again. Pan bored easily, and playing the same game again and again wasn’t why he was interested in Pirate Cove. It was the scarlet-clad captain. He wasn’t a toy to Pan—unlike so many others—he was an opponent. That was why the fairy queen thought the captain was the perfect teacher for Lola.
Finding Pirate Cove was the easiest thing she’d done in Neverland—by a large margin—but now that she was here there was harder problem. Blinker was a fine guide. He’d pointed out hidden traps Pan’s boys had laid out for anyone unlucky to travel by foot. Lola would’ve been hanging upside by her ankles ten times over if Blinker wasn’t with her. His charming bell-like chatter was comforting too. Lola considered herself lucky to have had Blinker as a guide, really, but now what? Blinker couldn’t announce her arrival and tell the pirates she wasn’t with Pan. He couldn’t explain that the fairy queen had sent them and that the pirates should not skewer Lola. Creeping over the hill that Pan had led her over once before, Lola felt lost.
“The fairy queen said that Captain Hook knew she’d send me, right?” Lola bit her lip and watched Blinker nod and helpless try to communicate more. Lola remembered how the captain had a curious gleam in his eyes when he watched her persuade Pan to leave the pirates alone. Had the queen’s discussion with him taken place before or after that little war? If it was before, Hook might have second thoughts. Why would he trust some foreign girl who flew with Pan?
She didn’t have a Plan B. If she’d had one, now would’ve been the time to jump ship and forget trying to parley with pirates. With one last stifled groan she crossed her fingers behind her back. She followed Blinker to the rocky beach. His excitement made him glow gold with tinges of dark purple webbing out and contracting—maybe a sign of his own uncertainty or maybe Lola hadn’t figured out every colour of Blinker’s mood-ring body.
Lola was a few meters from the edge of the town when someone noticed her. The balding pirate with a thin low ponytail walked in a curve and had a dark glass bottle in his hand. His clothes were worn and some of the buttons were missing. He was also missing an eye—which was probably how she’d gotten close before he realized she was there. When his one eye spotted her he stopped. Well, he tried to stop, but his body swung out a moment before he got complete control. Then his feet shuffled back, boots gathered sand.
“Lost boy!” he slurred. He raised his empty-handed arm and waved wildly. “It’s a lost boy! Pan’s coming!”
Lola looked down at herself. Boy? She knew the pirate was drunk, but seriously? She was definitely female. She started to scowl and was about to shout the obvious fact of her subtle but definite curves when her wits came back to her. The drunken pirate was shouting for help—and he’d been heard.
The hustle was impressive. The women sewing on a front porch, the men in the tavern, the sailors on the docks, and the children knew exactly what to do before any instructions were given. Three of the sewing women tossed their work at the fourth and she hurried inside. One of the women went out to meet children running her way. The other two women had gone inside for weapons—one came out with an old, split oar and the other had a rusted sword. They joined the other woman to gather the children, bringing them inside. The sailors tied their last knots in a hurry, grabbed a free rope or weapon and rushed to shore. The men came over from the tavern. Although some of them wobbled, their determined faces were enough to help their aim true. Lola hoped the raised-arms symbol for surrender was recognized in Neverland. She stopped moving and waited for the pirates to approach her. They did. They surrounded her. While they did keep eyes on her, it was only brief glances to make sure she hadn’t moved. Their eyes were more often on the sky and the hills around. They were afraid she hadn’t come alone.
Blinker swooped in figures around her. Some of the pirates had clued into the fact he was talking to them. None of them spoke pixie. The synchronized display had numbed Lola’s tongue. She knew that Blinker’s attempts to explain were hopeless. She was the only one who could say why she’d come. She swallowed. The movement helped. She searched the faces for someone who might be in charge. She needed someone who would bring her to Hook—alive.
“I’m not a lost boy,” she said.
The pirates growled at her. Some laughed bitterly. They were talking amongst themselves. Half of them were calling her names like liar, lily-livered, blowfish, and a few more she was disgusted by. She hoped someone had covered the children’s ears. She tried to shout over them—she tried to get the words out but the noise was like being sucked under waves. Each outcry of rage made another pirate brave enough to join with his or her own shout. No one would listen when she said the fairy queen sent her. Her words were stifled under the crushing weight of waves. If it were one or two or even five people she might have had the chance to bite back at them with a sarcastic comment or even a soliloquy about how to treat a girl with human dignity. But there were more than twenty people spewing their hatred, blaming her for vile deeds.
It wasn’t the first time Lola had faced a group of bullies. When she was little she’d hadn’t kept what she saw to herself. Sometimes she’d accidentally react to the shadows and people would stare at her strangely and she’d hear the things they whispered as they walked away. She’d been bullied in school, mostly typical things. Some of the girls called her strange. A school mate she’d once warned about his grandfather’s shadow following him often called her retarded and sometimes positioned himself at corners to trip her when she passed. The first few times she’d done exactly what her parents taught her—with her own flare added. She told him to stop and she told him exactly what happened to baby-faced pig-nosed weasels that didn’t know how to treat a girl. After that—and a confusing trip to the headmistress’ office that resulted in her being told to treat others with respect—she didn’t let little bullies bother her. She let them call her names or laugh at her. She ignored them.
Pirates weren’t like snickering children. The pirates weren’t calling her names to hide their own insecurities or because they were bored. There were at least twenty swords jabbing in her direction. The circle was shrinking. If she didn’t say something to convince them she would have more blood on her outside than her inside. Her hands were shaking. She heard herself gasp as gleaming silver poked her shoulder. She jerked away. The circle had shrunk again. They were all close enough to slice her with one short swing. Any one of them could do it. Her eyes blurred with sudden tears. She drew her arms close, breathing shallow, feet planted side by side, and knees locked from fear. She wanted to scream.
Blinker’s bell-voice was frantic. The pitch was painful. The pirates started shouting at Blinker to fly off or he’d be next. Next! They were going to kill her. She almost dropped to her knees, so close to curling into herself, to hide every inch of her that she could. She knew it wouldn’t be enough to save her but she couldn’t felt the will of her own body. She heard herself whisper, “Please.” She wasn’t brave. How silly she was. All those years drawing adventures on pages and now she was in a real storybook moment. She wasn’t a storybook heroine. She was afraid.
“Alright ye slovenly, scurvy, sea dogs!” The shout silenced the circle. Lola stopped whispering her plea and quietly, keeping her breathing shallow and so very quiet, she listened.
A second voice, this one much older shouted, “Move aside you flea ridden sloths! The last one in the Captain’s way will be dancing with the mermaids tonight. Unless you lousy lot have learned how to breathe underwater, I suggest you learn some discipline.”
With the gruff warning the circled parted. Lola was on her knees. She had enough courage to wipe her cheeks, sniffle, and swallowed the last of her whimpering. She couldn’t stand yet. Her eyes went were all the eyes went. The riotous circle opened into a horseshoe Captain Hook walked through.
He stood far enough that Lola didn’t have to crane her neck back, but close enough the fading sun cast his shadow over her. With the golden light behind him the scarlet of his coat and feathered hat seemed to blend in—like the sun shone through him. Maybe it was because he stopped the crazed pirates with a simple appearance, or maybe it was the cunning, but jovial expression he wore, but Lola had never be awed by a single person like she was awed by Captain Hook. She understood why the fairy queen thought he could teach her to defeat Pan. She understood why Pan chose him as his sworn enemy. Every inch of the captain was as regal as a fairytale prince. His composure was the same—like he could battle sea monsters and climb towers without tearing a seam or losing a button. But then there were his eyes. His eyes were the blue of crystal-like tropical waters. Clear as his eyes were, they were more like a mirror than a window. They certainly weren’t windows to his soul—if he even had one. Lola didn’t have to look into his eyes long before she knew this was a man whose greatest joy was being the villain.
That simple truth evaporated Lola’s fear. All of Neverland was crumbling because of Pan. The fairy queen was dying. The Lost Boys were becoming goblins. No one was safe from the changes. As much Captain Hook lived to be the villain, he couldn’t be. Pan was the villain of the story. That left no place for Hook—unless he was the hero.
Hook’s eyes searched her. He’d been grinning when he’d seen her cowering, but now that she knew what he was, he was disappointed. She stood straight and looked at him with dry eyes. His eyes lifted to the crowd. His arms gestured when he spoke and from the occasional quirk of his lips it was clear he particularly liked gesturing with his hook. He liked the way the gathered crowd eyed it with a mix of respect and discomfort.
“The number of offenses committed with this little exercise are very disappointing,” he said. Some of the men hung their heads. Everyone lowered or sheathed their weapons. “Who called his name?”
The crowd breathed in unison. A half second later everyone stepped back—except the drunken pirate who had noticed me. He wasn’t surprised he’d been given up. He seemed to accept that if they hadn’t stepped back he would’ve stepped forward. Hook went towards the man with casual but firm footfalls. When he reached the man he put his arm over his shoulder, the tip of his hook close to the man’s cheek, an inch below his one good eye.
“What is the law?” Hook asked nonchalantly.
The pirate’s mouth quivered. His bottle—still in hand—sloshed from shaking. “Don’t say the devil’s name or he’ll come.”
“That’s it,” Hook agreed. He glanced around the crowd, his piercing eyes encouraging them to all nod their heads. They did. “Do you know who this girl is?”
The drunken pirate looked at Lola. Lola stared back at him. Lola frowned and the pirate looked back at Hook. Lola and the drunken pirate were both very confused by Hook’s question.
“I don’t know who she is either,” Hook said with a laugh. He looked over his crowd and they laughed too. The drunken pirated started to laugh. “But…I do know, she’s not him.” The laughter faded. Grim faces replaced the moment. The drunken pirate closed his eyes and tightened his hand around the bottleneck. “You saw one girl. One girl.” Hook stepped away from the pirate. The crowd held their breath. “For your mistake—not to mention incorrectly calling this girl a lost boy—punishment is necessary. However,”—he crossed his arms behind her back, his hand holding the wrist of his hooked hand—“you were the first to notice the intruder and that deserves commendation. For that your punishment will be reduced. The tavern will not allow you admittance for two days.” The drunken pirate almost dropped his bottle—but he grabbed it with his other hand and watched it like it was the last of it in the world. “Also, you have lost your place on my ship. Mr. Smee, please promote…whoever was next on the list.”
Mr. Smee—scratching his grungy Santa beard—whistled at a young man in the crowd. “Zachary, you’ve been promoted.”
A young man with tight curly red hair—not much older than Jensen—grinned. A few men clapped him on the back. The drunken pirate moved to the back of the crowd, too ashamed to be in plain sight.
“Onto my next disappointment,” Hook said. He raised his arm out straight and it went to the bell that Lola had heard ringing when Pan had attacked Pirate Cove. “Who ran for the warning bell?” Eyes dropped in the crowd. Others shook their head shamefully. “Not one man considered that there might be someone who could not hear the warning. There might be men on the ships or women in the cellars. What if there was a child somewhere in town or in the water who hadn’t heard?” Hook dropped his arm. There was tightness in his normally smooth voice.
“That’s why I suggested a schedule, Captain,” Mr. Smee said. He grinned. The way he nodded at the crowd was definitely bragging. “Two men at dawn, change over at noon, change at dusk. Easy to remember.” He crossed his arms over his round belly.
Hook’s expression flattened. He set a hand on his hip and frowned at Smee. Some of the crowd rolled their eyes. Whatever respect the Scarlet Captain had was not shared with his first mate. Smee raised a hand and smiled apologetically at Hook. Lola wasn’t sure how to react to this town meeting, but the way they crowd responded to Smee was infectious. There was lightness to the feel of the crowd now. Even Hook had warmed.
“Unfortunately I am forced to acknowledge that Mr. Smee’s suggestion is a good one,” Hooks said. He smirked. The crowed chuckled. Smee pretended to scowl, but the brightness of his eyes contradicted.
Lola’s jaw dropped. It was an act: the pirates pretending to be foul-mouthed scourges, Mr. Smee as an old fool, and Hook as the villain—Pirate Cove was a play. The pirates were a theatrical company, acting their parts whenever there was an audience. They only sang and let their worries show when no one was around to witness it. What Lola was seeing now was a slip, an improvisation. Pan’s Neverland was full of games and tricks. Why shouldn’t the pirates be a jovial act?
“Since Mr. Thompson has some free time I’m certain he would volunteer for the new position,” Hook said, his voice more relaxed than before. The role of awe-inspiring captain was forgotten. Even the villainy in his eyes had been changed into something smaller. “Be at the bell at dusk, Mr. Thompson.”
“Finally I must address the last committed offense,” Hook shouted. He smirked and he winked at Smee. “Bad form.”
The crowd muttered amongst themselves with a sudden understanding. Lola didn’t get it. If Hook meant fighting form, they’d looked good to her. Hook approached her and offered his hand to her. “Our sincerest apologies, Miss,” he said, his voice smooth again. “Attacking a young lady alone is considerably deplorable. Attacking an unarmed woman alone…” He gripped her arm by her elbow when she didn’t take his hand. “Very bad form. Miss…we will make amends for this dishonourable action.” He dipped his head and crossed his hook over his chest.