Skull and Shackles

Interlude: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Ukele

Posted by: Jennifer

“Where is my sister?” Feruzi asked as she watched the immense eagle bearing Pegsworthy land on the Kraken. Without a word, Labella led her down to the Bonaventure’s brig, where Ukele was sitting curled in misery on a rough wooden bench. Feruzi stared mutely for several moments, then said, “Would you excuse us, please?” Labella was gone before Feruzi finished speaking the third word.

“It’s all my fault!” Ukele wailed and burst into tears. Black fury seemed to rise in Feruzi’s stomach and meet a sinking sense of heavy numbness. “I want to go home!”

“Has your wake of destruction tired you?” Feruzi grated.

“What wake?”

“The Nugavi King’s son Ijmal. Tomak. Now Eggal Torkelsen. Very nearly Captain Pegsworthy. Who knows how many others. All dead so you could avoid the oh-so-horrible fate of being wealthy, pampered, and married.”

“I never wanted to get married. Certainly not to Tomak. He treated me like a . . . a valuable heifer!”

“Then why did you agree to marry him, stupid girl?!”

“What was I supposed to do with the entire village there waiting for me to agree? Say, no, never mind, sorry for wasting everyone’s time? Mother would have disowned me and Father turned his face away!”

“Then why, why, WHY did you agree to that contest in the first place?!”

“I DIDN’T!! Father told me that the time had come for me to choose a husband because the young men were becoming unmanageable and he thought there might be blood at any time if I didn’t make up my mind! I told him YOU didn’t have a husband and he said YOU weren’t a . . . a shameless flirt and a . . . disgrace to his name . . .”

“Father said that to YOU?”

“Why are you so surprised? He could hardly stand me! Not like the amazing, the spectacular, the majestic perfect princess Feruzi! He let you do anything you wanted! You never had to stay with the women or risk everyone sneering at you, you went out hunting and fishing and just running through the woods whenever you felt like it! STOP LAUGHING AT ME!!”

Feruzi was doubled over, leaning helplessly on a workbench as tears streamed from her eyes. “I’m not . . . laughing . . . at you,” she gasped. “You, you IDIOT.” Feruzi reached out, grabbed the front of Ukele’s shirt, and pulled her up close to the bars. “Yes . . . I went out hunting. And they DID sneer at me—for a while, until everyone got used to it. Then they ignored me.”

“Liar!”

“I went out with Father because he needed help and there was no one else to do it. I didn’t have a husband because no one wanted me. A man wants a woman he can come home to, and what do I know about any of that? I can’t even cook!”

“Well, to be honest, neither can I.”

“You? The, what did you call it, ‘majestic prefect princess’ of domestic virtue?”

“I can’t even boil water.”

“You should have told Tomak that. Maybe he’d still be alive.”

“Maybe they’d ALL still be alive.” Ukele started to sniffle again. “I’m sorry Zizi! I’m so s-sorry . . . these people are so horrible!”

“If you’d stayed put Merrill would have kept the horrible ones well away from you.”

“Who?”

“Merrill. Captain Pegsworthy.”

“The one with the wooden leg? I don’t like him. He’s mean. And UGLY.”

“He almost died saving your life, and now he’s been arrested. They might HANG him, Kele. All because of you.”

“Don’t put that on me, I was just fine until he decided to start a fight with the men who were helping me get away.”

“I thought you admitted it was your fault?”

“I meant the other one, what was his name, Tinkle-something.”

“Torklesen. And weren’t those Harrigan’s men? I know Merrill said something about Harrigan’s men.”

“Um . . . I forget.”

Feruzi slammed her fist against the metal lattice. “UKELE. Listen to me. You have NO IDEA what would have happened to you if Barnabus Harrigan got his hands on you. I once saw him cut a man’s heart out. His officers tortured people for fun. And you walked right out and turned yourself over to his men.”

“I didn’t know they were his men.”

“No, you didn’t know. Because you don’t think. You never think. You just wave your tits under any man’s nose and grin, but you don’t realize that he thinks you’ve promised him something and you’d better be willing to deliver.”

“Hey, if he thinks a little hip-waggle means he owns me, that’s on him. I’m not responsible. If he gets uppity, I’ll magic him but good.”

“I . . . I cannot believe you. I really just cannot believe you. I was hoping you might have learned something from this, but I see I was wrong.”

“Don’t be like that! I said I’d go home!”

“Yes, you will. But I don’t want to look at you any more.”

“Come on, you’re not going to just leave me down here!”

“We’ll see.” Feruzi turned away.

Chopper flagged down when she emerged onto the deck. “I need to talk to you.”

“Yes?”

“What are you planning to do with that sister of yours? ‘Cause I’ll tell you right now, if it involves my ship, you’d better think again. I am not letting anything like this happen aboard the Crisis. You completely underestimated the amount of trouble she’d cause.”

“Yes, I know.” Feruzi sighed. “She’s willing to go home now, I suppose, but that doesn’t mean she won’t cause more trouble.”

“Tie her up and gag her, then. Whatever it takes.”

“I would . . . but I don’t think it would improve matters any. It might even make things worse. I think Torkelsen’s death shocked her pretty badly. She really just wants to go home. Oh, and apparently you’re hairy and you stink.”

“Heh. All right, Ruse, have it your way.” Chopper’s face hardened. “But if anyone else gets hurt because of her, that’s on you.”

“It’s already on me. Every bit of it.”

“You’re godsdamned right.”

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Jennifer

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