Feruzi shrugged at Chopper. "That was . . . not as bad as it could have been, I suppose."
"Codswallop is what it is, pure and simple," Chopper growled. Ezikial scowled in agreement.
"Are you all right, Merrill?" Feruzi asked. Pegsworthy sighed.
"I will be. It might take some time, though."
Feruzi began to fidget, glancing over at Chopper again, who tilted his head to the side and regarded her curiously. "I have a . . . favor I want to ask you," she said, speaking to Pegsworthy. "If you don't mind. And, er, if Chopper doesn't mind." Chopper's eyebrows shot up and Pegsworthy visibly shook off whatever was occupying his mind.
"Of course," Pegsworthy said. "Anything."
"Merrill, um, will you be my husband?" Feruzi asked, turning pink and looking down at her hands, which were clenched together so hard the bones might be in some danger. Behind her, Ezikial's jaw sagged. Even Reiko looked momentarily surprised, but it was nothing to Pegsworthy's blank astonishment.
"I . . . yes. Yes, of course I will!" he finally managed. Feruzi drooped in relief and sagged into Pegsworthy's shoulder as he put his arms around her. "Always the unexpected with you," he murmured gently.
"Hell YEAH!" Chopper enthused. "Crisis could use a few babies wanderin' about, gettin' into mischief." He grinned and elbowed Ezikial. "Did you hear that, Mister Hands? I'm gonna be an uncle!"
"Let's not get TOO far ahead of ourselves," Pegsworthy told Chopper, chuckling.
"Captain, I'm fairly sure she only asked him to marry her. Babies typically come after that," Reiko corrected.
"Aye, SHORTLY after."
"Excuse me a moment, I have to kill my Captain," Feruzi said, recovering somewhat. Chopper grinned.
"Excuse ME a moment, I need to run for my life!" he scampered toward the door and Reiko shook her head.
"We should probably get out of here, anyway," Feruzi said, not deigning to chase Chopper after all.
"I think that would be best," Pegsworthy said. "Old Bonefist might change his mind. Do, um, do any of you know where my ship is berthed?"
"Near the Crisis," Reiko said.
"Then let's be away. I want to hear all about this island of yours, too."
Chopper rejoined them outside, grinning happily, and Feruzi addressed him in a sharp tone. "I'm wondering what your rationale is for declaring that you're going to be an uncle," she said.
"Yer family. Naturally, yer kids are my nieces and nephews. Where's the confusion?"
"Oh, so it's me and not Merrill, then?"
"Both, really," Chopper said, mugging wildly. "But I don't want to sully this with any weird incestuous notions." Feruzi attempted to give him a reproving glare but wound up bursting into highly uncharacteristic giggles, causing Ezikial to lose control of his jaw again. She detached herself from Pegsworthy and threw her arms around Chopper's shoulders.
"I'm getting married!"
"Damn yeah, you are. And to someone worth marrying, even!" Chopper scooped her up and twirled around before setting her back on her feet. "Congratulations, Feruzi. Truly."
By this time, they were in earshot of the ship and drawing considerable attention. "Feruzi's doin' what now?!" Rosie shouted from on deck.
"Becomin' a respectable woman!" Chopper yelled back. "Can ye believe it?"
The halfling grinned. "Don't reckon I can, Cap'n sir."
"Well, believe it, sailor. That's an order. Where's Sandara?"
"Dunno, Cap'n. I kin send Caulky ter find 'er."
"Officers and guest to the chartroom, please," Ezikial said, leading the way. He produced a bottle of whiskey like a conjurer's trick and poured a toast. Feruzi took a careful sip, coughed in shock, and had to wipe tears from her eyes. Chopper began telling Pegsworthy about their new acquisition, the ominously named '
' and kept
up a stream of good-natured chatter until Sandara appeared, looking
confused. Ezikial promptly pressed a mug
into her hand. Island
of Empty Eyes
"Babies!" was Choppers succinct explanation. Sandara's eyebrows knit.
"Oh so NOW ye wan' a piece o' me?"
Reiko rolled her eyes. "What he means to say is that Feruzi and Captain Pegsworthy are getting married."
"Well, sure, that's step one," Chopper allowed.
"Wait, really?" Sandara asked.
"Apparently so," Reiko said. "I don't think Feruzi would have asked him to marry her if she didn't mean it."
"Congratulations! When's th' bless'd date?"
"I thought I heard someone say 'tonight'," Chopper declared. Pegsworthy eyed Feruzi, who shrugged slightly.
"I leave that up to you," she said.
"Why wait until tonight? We could we here, right now."
"If that's what you want."
"Yes. If you're ready."
"It was my idea, silly."
"Wait, first we'll need a dress!" Chopper interjected. "CONCHOBAR!"
"I'm on it!" came the faint reply from outside the open door.
"But I have a dress . . ." Feruzi protested, startled when Conchobar appeared as if by teleportation and took hold of her hand to begin dragging her away. The gnome shot her an offended look.
"It's bad luck for the groom to see it."
"But he's going to see it in a few minutes anyway?" Her protests dwindled as Rosie and Conchobar working together propelled her from the room. "Your customs are so odd. At home there's just an exchange of livestock . . ."
"Is this t' be a proper weddin' or a Shackles marriage?" Sandara asked while Feruzi was otherwise occupied.
"Proper," was Pegsworthy's instant response. "With plenty of witnesses, too."
"Fetch the crew of the Bonaventure?" Chopper suggested. Pegsworthy nodded. The Crisis was mobbed in short order, Labella, Durgrin, and Pinch adding to the officers in the chartroom while the crewmembers mingled on deck and eyed Fishguts's hasty preparations with an eye to some serious partying. Everyone jumped and a few reached for weapons when there was a sudden, gut-wrenching scream of utter horror. Feruzi appeared, walking with calm dignity and holding Conchobar under her arm like a purse while the gnome sobbed in a heartbroken fashion. Chopper quickly trotted forward to rescue him.
"Sorry," Feruzi said, "but I'm not wearing all that frippery. Just no."
"Not everyone appreciates style," Conchobar sniffled. He seemed to be recovering rapidly, though, wiping his face and regaining his cheerful demeanor.
"You should have let her choose the dress for herself," Reiko admonished.
"What can I say," Conchobar said, spreading his hands helplessly. "Gnome." Chopper patted his back in consolation.
"Ye've still got me, lad."
Feruzi looked around at the crowd and frowned slightly. "I . . . suppose I should ask my sister if she wants to attend." That got a scowl out of Chopper.
"As you will. I'll fetch her." It was clear from his tone that there was no question of 'asking' about it. He was gone only a moment, returning with Ukele at the end of a rope that held her wrists firmly together.
"Him?!" Ukele demanded, rolling her eyes at Pegsworthy.
"I like him," Feruzi said.
"But, Zizi, he's so ug--" Ukele froze in Feruzi's stare and bit off the word. "And you complain about me making mistakes. Well, don't let me get in the way of yours." Chopper popped her on the back of her head.
"Zizi?" Reiko asked curiously. Feruzi attempted to transfer her glare, but Reiko was, of course, immune.
Ezikal chose to speak up, gesturing toward Ukele. "I'll make a special exception and shoot her for you, Feruzi," he said. "Just once, if you like."
"So tempting. But I'd never hear the end of it."
"Well, if I kept shooting, you wouldn't have to hear about it . . ."
"No." Feruzi took hold of Pegsworthy's arm. "Shall we?"
Sandara held out her mug to Ezikial, who refilled it. She took up a position at the head of the map table, gesturing with her mug as if she intended to bless--or perhaps merely douse--the proceeding with it.
"Friens, crewmates, assembl'd pirates, Besmara don' stand on cerem'ny an' nor will I. We come from th' sea an' back down to th' see we'll go. Fer those what choose t' spend th' time intwixt ter be wit summon they love enough t' make their one an' only, I say, fookin' great." Feruzi felt Pegsworthy stiffen as he struggled to avoid laughing at Sandara's notion of a wedding ceremony. They exchanged an amused look. Fishguts produced a surprisingly lacy white handkerchief and began blubbering loudly while Sandara continued. "In that spirit, Feruzi an' Merrill 'ere have asked me ter join 'em in holy matrimony. So 'ere we go." She paused and took a long pull from the mug, coughing. "Besmara's britches that is good.
"All right. So. Feruzi, D'ye take this man ter be yer lawful-like husband, til the sea take yer back?"
Feruzi blinked at being addressed this way. "Um . . . yes?"
"Whew!" Chopper announced. Labella punched him in the arm and he subsided a bit.
"Now, Merrill, d'ye take this woman ter be yer lawful-type wife, til th' sea take ye back?"
"Of course I do," Pegsworthy said evenly.
"Great! Then thass how it is. Wi' tha power gi'en me by th Black Queen herself, I pronounce ye husband an' wife." Sandara made a suggestive gesture with her mug. "Ye should prolly kiss 'er now an' seal the deal."
"One thing first," Pegsworthy told her. He slid the ring off his hand--or tried to, it took a hefty pull to get it over the knuckle--and grimaced in rueful amusement at the pale line left on his finger. "I've had this a long time, as you can see. My mother gave it to me when I first went to sea in the hopes that it would insure my eventual return. It seems to have worked, although perhaps not as she expected. If I may?" Feruzi extended her hand wordlessly and he slid it onto one of her slim fingers, the ring shifting as he did so to fit snugly. "Wear it and know that I love you." Feruzi looked stricken, searching visibly for something to say. Pegsworthy gave her an odd half-smile and gathered her into his arms.
"Besmara help me if this gives Grok any ideas," Ezikial muttered as Pegsworthy lifted Feruzi off her feet and kissed her in a fashion that threatened to upset the map table. Nearly everyone else in the room was weeping apart from Pinch and Reiko.
"Welp," Sandara concluded, wiping her face. "Thass one done, anyway. Anybody else?"
"Not to interrupt the wonderful mood, but, don't you have something you may want to tell us?" Reiko asked. Sandara blushed.
"Well, it's wonderful too. Mebbe not AS wonderful, but... I got me a beau!"
"Captain Jerrell, I presume?"
"Oh, now there's a smart match," Chopper said, pleased.
"THANK ye, Cap'n, I'm inclined t' agree. E's a gennelman, but not TOO proper an all."
"Damn right. So where is 'e?"
"Oh, 'e were busy wit his own things. Had I known what were goin' on 'ere I woulda brung 'im. Caulky din't ezactly esplain herself."
"Too bad," Chopper said.
"So do we commence celebratin?"
The party almost immediately spilled off the deck of the Crisis--gathering up a number of innocent bystanders--and threatened to engulf the Bonaventure, but Pinch forestalled this by removing his spectacles and favoring the raucous partiers with a fearsome red-eyed glare that dispatched them into the nearby taverns to wreak their havoc. "Thanks," Pegsworthy told him. The devilish quartermaster shrugged. "I know my duty, Captain. You have enough problems."
Feruzi took advantage of the distraction to collar Chopper for a moment. "We should really do something about that fine. Or I should, since it's my fault."
He nodded. "Make it happen. Call it a bridegroom gift or summat."
"I think I may have a better idea if you don't mind me leaving the ship for a week or so."
"Merrill offered to take Ukele home for us. I want to go with him. Apart from everything else, my family will want to bestow my share of goods on him. Normally I'd use them to establish my own household, but that's a little out of the question here."
"Well, if that's what ye want. Think ye can find yer way back to us after?"
"Of course. You're family."
"Heh, no, I meant CAN you. Yer no navigator." Chopper gave Feruzi a playful shove. She grinned and punched him on the shoulder, then walked off to rejoin her husband. Reiko intercepted her and handed her an oddly-shaped stoppered carafe.
"There is a custom where I come from that a couple should share a glass of this with each other on their wedding night. Or day. It would make me happy if you would accept this gift and share it."
"Thank you, Reiko." The little samurai nodded and left. Feruzi shook her head. "I know it's only just noon, but I've had about all of this I can take," she added, turning to Merrill.
"Me too, truth be told," he said. "Shall we leave them to it?"
"Yes, please." Merrill nodded to Pinch as they climbed aboard the Bonaventure. He ushered Feruzi inside and, closing the door, locked it securely.
* * *
Two weeks later, the
crept over the horizon ahead of Crisis.
The first challenge of their new home found them only moments later in
the form of low-lying shoals and barrier reefs that ringed the island to a
distance of nearly half a mile. Reiko
and Leila put their heads together over the map given them by the Master of the
Gales. Island of Empty Eyes
"Make fer the bay," Chopper said, pointing over Leila's shoulder. "I don't fancy leavin' Crisis so far from shelter this close to the Eye."
"Let's hope it's not more grindylows and sahuagin," Feruzi said.
"Don't jinx us," Reiko told her.
"Oh, c'mon now, the sea's not so predictable. Like as not it'll send us something worse," Chopper said, grinning.
"Like a giant dragon turtle?" Feruzi asked. Chopper feigned a yawn.
White sandy beaches encircled the deep, sheltered bay at the south end of the island. To the north a waterfall plummeted from a high escarpment visible above the treeline. The white stone walls of a seaside fort gleamed to the west of them, supporting a single tall tower that was crowned with a torch-like fixture of sparkling crystal.
"What is that?" Feruzi asked as they dropped anchor. "A wizard's tower?"
"Gods willing, no," Chopper said, making a warding sign.
"That fort might make a fine base camp f'r explorin' the rest o the isle," Fishguts suggested.
"Assuming it's not occupied," Feruzi said gloomily. "What am I saying. Of course it's occupied."
"Then let's go see if we need to evict any squatters," Chopper said.
"Or at least charge them rent," Feruzi shot back. Chopper stroked his chin thoughtfully.
"Shrewd." They made preparations for lowering the ship's boat, but were interrupted rather severely when a regular forest of slimy purplish tentacles sprouted all around the ship, grabbing at anyone and everyone on deck. Ezikial sprang onto the rail and began firing wildly over the side, filling the water with inky blood while Feruzi staggered from a slimy blow. She managed to avoid being grabbed and pulled overboard, but others were not so lucky.
"Oy, beastie, them's me crew!" Chopper bellowed and chopped a tentacle neatly in half, forcing the octopus to release Marteen, who splashed unceremoniously overboard. Feruzi joined Ezikial at the rail. It was not clear at first what effect her arrows were having, but then the entire ship shuddered as the octopus beneath it writhed in agony. It heaved itself partway out of the water, beak opening, only to meet Reiko's katana headed the other way, rendering it instant calamari.
"So much for the welcoming committee," Feruzi grunted, helping soaked crew out of the water. The octopus, indeed, proved to be a superior island feature compared to the fort, which on closer inspection seemed to be abandoned.
Ezikial frowned at the battered stonework and torn gates. "Those towers are ready collapse. Anything might topple them now."