The Pirate Apprentice, Chapter 15: The Jewel of the Sea

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The Jewel of the Sea was a lush green island, maybe 8 kilomi in any direction, mostly ringed with high cliffs and big rocks. The repair depot was a small city on the east side of the island, with most of the repair shops built up on what used to be a sandbar that stretched out forever. All the repair shops might have ruined a nice sandbar, but it was downwind of the rest of the island and reduced the amount of damage caused by things blowing up.

The south shore of the island had some small towns with services for sailors to unwind. There were restaurants, pubs, brothels, bars, game rooms, ale houses, dance halls, taverns, dance halls that weren’t also brothels, bath houses of both types, tea houses that only served tea and certainly had nothing going on in the back room, and theaters with shows for all tastes. There was even a theater in the town by the docks where I lived that was trying to use modified navs to create what it called “multimedia sensory extravaganzas.” I think it probably worked better if you’d been to one of those tea houses first.

The officers had much nicer resorts. The sort of places they could take their spouses. They included most of the things the sailors had, just catering to a more sophisticated clientele, if by sophisticated you mean people with more money. They were nicer, cleaner, and with more expensive drinks and other services.

No matter where you went, there were more than the usual number of temples and shrines plying their trade of fortune, forgiveness and forecast. I suppose that made sense. There were so many people from so many places to pray for and to accept offerings from and to sell charms to. There was no such thing as a poor priest or hungry monk on the Jewel of the Sea. Even those who lay claim to more frugal faiths were pudgy with the humble fruits of their service.

Once you escaped the towns, the rest of the island came in two shapes, flat agricultural land and rocky hills that people liked to call mountains. The hills were not good for growing things, but were good for parks, shrines and temples more interested in meditation and ritual than money, wilderness, and getting away from other people. Some people said the biggest mountain on the island, not a very big one, was a dormant volcano. But no one was really sure, and it seemed happy to keep on being dormant, so no one worried much about it.

It wasn’t really a tropical paradise, since we got there right before the rainy season hit, but the temperature stayed close to perfect year round, if a little too humid in the summer.

People say the island has been continuously inhabited for thousands of years, and has survived uncounted wars and natural disasters. The inhabitants would just keep growing rice and pledging fealty to anyone who demanded it of them. Somewhere along the way the island started to be a place where ships would put in for repairs while limping back from wars to the north or south. So the people who lived there took to repairing ships without prejudice or picking sides. The island came to be known as a safe haven for anyone, except criminals that is, unless they were very polite criminals, and the islanders pledged featly to none. It wasn’t one of those rough and dangerous freeholds that stood without law or order except the rule of the fist. They had laws, they were strict, and they were mostly enforced, at least when it wasn’t more profitable to look the other way.

Visitors who committed crimes against another state were turned over to the officials for that state. Since those officials were usually captains of military vessels, it didn’t really go well for the criminals unless they were worth a good ransom. Visitors who committed crimes against the natives of the island were to be found the next day as a head on a pike on the road between the repair yards and the entertainment districts where the sailors waited for their ships.

Locals committing crimes against the sailors and other guests, of course, never happened, and when it did it was usually nothing worse than cheating at dice. And really, if your host isn’t allowed to cheat at dice, then who is? Imagine all the houses that would have to close their doors if they had to play fair with their customers. Besides, gambling was illegal on the Jewel, so clearly there wasn’t any.

The entire time I was there I only ever got to see one head on a pike. And there were exactly zero dead sailors in ditches the entire time. Probably because the local guards were pretty nice and didn’t leave people in ditches, and because most navies don’t like to waste good bodies except by hurling them at an enemy. Not that there had been any big conflicts in over two generations. It was mostly small skirmishes over border disputes, crushing the occasional revolt, and keeping lawless nomads and raiders from preying at the edges of the civilized world.

After the great wars, everyone was pretty sure there was nothing civilized left outside of our ring of states and it’s small tail training off to the west along the Southern Sea. The rest of the world was totally and completely destroyed. At least no one else ever made an attempt to contact us. Well, no one important. Only pirates ranged that far beyond the edges of civilization, and they kept their mouths shut if they found anything. The belief that outside the borders was nothing but a hostile, savage world was a belief that helped to keep the peace. No one wanted to be the next one to join the rest of the world.


Our new home was right next to the repair depot, which was just called the Docks by locals. Like many other people working on the Docks, we lived on a small island, maybe a kilomi across, that some joker had named The Big Island. It was worker housing and didn’t come with most of the fun things that kept sailors occupied. It was just a hump off the larger the island where the sandbar had built itself up against some rocks. If they hadn’t cut a ship channel through, I probably could have waded to the main island from there. Though walking across one of the bridges was drier.

It wasn’t a very fancy island, but it had some very fancy beaches on the south side that only locals were allowed to use, and I was officially an apprentice local.

The house wasn’t very fancy either, but it was a nice little bungalow, blue with white trim, with five whole rooms and a little yard for Officer Puppy to go out and enjoy the sun in. Ornery had purchased it. It was ours, not rented. I didn’t even know what we were supposed to do with five rooms. There were two bedrooms and mom said the other three were the parlor, the dining room, and the kitchen. I knew that already, I just didn’t know why people needed that many rooms. I never could figure out why people wanted to eat outside the kitchen. That’s where all the good smells are.

By the time we got there, pirates were already the unpacking all our furniture and trying to figure out where to put everything. They had zipped out on a floater and left us a nice, slow ride by pedicab. There was already some furniture in the house and they were trying to work around it.

We showed up just in time for mom to start giving them directions about where things belonged. There was a lot of shuffling and rearranging as she changed her mind more than once. As they were unpacking, it was pretty easy to see none of Ornery’s stuff had come with us. He was going to be away for a long time.

That night I went to bed in a room of my very own. It was lonely, even with Officer Puppy curled up next to me.

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