“If your star charts read poorly, no wind is generous.”
Captain Noem Pymecanth
“Hurry, Taja. You don’t want to be left behind, do you?” Ranseur glanced back with a smile and flicked her raven hair. The lady laughed at something Captain Pymecanth said and linked arms with the old sea dog as the pair boarded.
Taja trailed behind, her eyes wide and wandering in amazement. Pymecanth’s ship appeared nothing like the vessels she recalled from her earliest memories with the parson and his wife. Fleeting images of old fishers and whalers flashed in her mind, but nothing compared in size, or beauty, to the craft she boarded now. Threefold the length and width of any boat she’d ever seen, its wooden planks were stark white, veined with charcoal-colored grains that appeared natural to the wood. The mainmast unfurled in front of her, spiraling into a multi-layered web of fabric and rope, flush in light orange and turquoise hues.
“Daughter,” the woman’s voice called, this time impatient.
Taja scuffled along the planks, finally reaching the deck. The girl cupped her aquine in her palms before she jumped aboard. White Cap wobbled with an animated ebb and flow.
“Come,” the captain waved with his rough hand, “let me show you to your quarters, miss.”
Taja walked along behind Pymecanth, her head swiveling to take in the many intricacies of the vessel. “Where’s the crew?”
“Why, you are looking at him,” Pymecanth smiled and opened the door to a cabin.
“Just you?” Her eyes popped.
“Just me,” the captain assured. “I won’t be needin’ much of a crew, miss. We travel by different means.”
“Magic?” she inferred aloud.
Pymecanth smirked and his face curled. “Why… why, yes in fact.” His eyes guided her to the door he’d just opened.
She followed him in and looked around the tiny cabin. The room barely fit a small bed and wardrobe, with room for little else.
“We’ll reach our destination by the end of tomorrow,” Pymecanth rubbed his substantial beard, his other hand on the doorknob, “but for that short time, this room will be yours, miss. I hope it suits you.”
Taja entered and, with an encouraging nod from Ranseur, thanked Captain Pymecanth for his hospitality.
“If you’d like, I’ll let you steer for a bit?” The man winked and turned to head back to the deck. “Welcome aboard the Violet Sky!”
Ranseur crooked her head in the same direction. “Come, daughter. Let us enjoy the open water while we can.”
As the three turned back to the deck, Pymecanth strode to the captain’s wheel and motioned for Taja to follow. She moved to stand next to him at the helm and as his hands grabbed the handles, she felt a familiar surge of energy encircle them. Magic rose gently from the wheel.
“Wha—” she stammered, to both the captain and Ranseur’s delight. They shot glances and smiles at each other.
“Tell it where you want to go.” Pymecanth bent and pointed to the sails.
Taja smiled and grabbed the wheel. “To the open sea!”
In an instant, the colorful sails bulged, and a billowing wind filled the canvass, swirling the colors together. Taja giggled and pointed as the orange and turquoise spun in a chromatic blend, turning in circles of reddish brown. The Violet Sky lurched out of the harbor and before she knew it, found its way out of the bay.
“Look,” Ranseur pointed, “our home disappears from the horizon.”
“What else can we do?” Taja blurted, turning back to Pymecanth.
The captain put his hand on her shoulder. “Tell the Sky to take you home.”
The afternoon sun began to wane, but Taja hadn’t moved far from the helm since they’d left dock in the early morning. Ranseur and the captain leaned over the starboard rail and had been whispering when Taja noticed White Cap waddling toward them. With a rush of water, he jumped over the railing of the ship and into the ocean.
“White Cap!” Taja ran to the rail, looking overboard, hoping to find her friend in the sea. At first, all she saw was deep blue and some foam atop the ocean’s waves. “No!” she cried, her eyes darting back and forth, looking for the aquine. Panic rose in her, her limbs going numb and a lump appearing in her throat.
With a spray thrice its size, White Cap shot into the air like a playful dolphin, a stray stream of water hitting Taja square in the forehead. The girl frowned at first, blinked and then turned to Ranseur who had burst into a fit of laughter.
“Don’t worry my daughter,” Ranseur reached to wipe Taja’s face with the drape of her dress, “aquines are good-natured creatures and sometimes we must suffer their playful burbles.”
The girl smiled and turned back to the sea, watching as White Cap kept pace with the ship, skipping along the surface of the water. The creature’s carefree attitude was infectious, and Taja knew their connection was a part of that.
Ranseur shook her head as she observed the aquine, who was now racing across the surface in the shape of a translucent colt. “There’s so much more to this world,” she remarked with a serious tone, “so much mystery and beauty, and you’re only at the start of your journey.” She pushed Taja’s blonde hair behind the girl’s shoulders. “I have a world of wonder to show you, and we have so much to discover together.”
The words created a yearning inside of the girl. She wanted everything Ranseur was promising, but she kept being dragged back to White Cap’s nervous bobbing the night before in the mansion.
“What’s on your mind, darling?” Ranseur watched her closely.
“I thought you said I wasn’t ready?” She looked down after a moment of hesitation. “Suddenly, I’m going home. Why?”
“I know it’s confusing, sweetheart, but you must trust me. I would never mislead you. You are far more powerful than you know.”
Taja looked toward White Cap once more while she tried to ignore how Ranseur had neglected to answer her question.
The morning light peeked through the small porthole in Taja’s cabin, greeting her with the warmth of dawn. She stirred and stretched, turning to find White Cap’s seashell-shaped bottle. She smiled to herself and poured her friend onto the top of the small wardrobe. The aquine sprung to attention, undulating in the sun, and casting a merriment of contorted light onto the wall behind it.
“We have an important day today,” Taja reminded it. “Today the captain told me we’d reach my old home.”
The aquine stopped its bobbling and stiffened, almost as if it were a sheet of ice.
The girl’s smile flattened into a straight line and her brow furrowed. “I know you are worried,” she started, “but the lady wouldn’t sail us into danger.”
White Cap appeared to thaw into an amorphous puddle atop of the drawers. It slithered its way to the edge and with a jet of water, leapt into her hands. Before Taja could react, the creature spiraled its way up her arm and created a tentacle of water, pointing out of the porthole.
For a moment, she froze. Somehow, she knew he wanted her to look out the window. She crawled closer to the porthole, peering just enough to find Ranseur and the captain speaking in the distance near the wheel.
She tried to listen, but the waves lapping against the boards made her task impossible. She slipped from her bed and cupped White Cap in one hand and opened the door with the other. As she stepped onto the deck, an odor almost overwhelmed her. The smell was familiar yet unrecognizable, and it was so strong it tickled her throat. She paused, the stench turning over in her head. She knew it, but just couldn’t—
“Ah, my darling! How did you sleep?” The silver-bearded captain spotted her, and Ranseur abruptly finished her thought, turning to see her ward.
“Very well, thanks,” Taja managed, feeling the exact opposite. She’d barely slept at all, trying to grill White Cap for any further answers as to why her return home would be something dreadful. Before long, however, it became clear that the aquine didn’t know much more than she did.
Ranseur led her by the hand to the bow of the ship where a patch of land beckoned to them from the horizon. While the sight seemed to overjoy Ranseur, Taja gulped down her anxiety.
Ranseur squeezed her hand. “We’re here early. You and the captain have brought us here with the speed of a jackalope. Isn’t it beautiful, my daughter?”
For the first time, Taja questioned the lady. Is she my mother? She’d had motherly figures in her life before—Elyss and Yasmine, and now Ranseur. Will this island find me home to my true mother?