“Steadyyyyy—“ the Cap’n cried as the wind tore at the ship. Tom bounded up from belowdecks, howling a triumphant, “All secure, Cap’n!” Apart from the Cap’n and the ebony helmsman, the entire crew had piled into a lifeboat, and awaited the order to release it. “One…” the Captain bellowed. “Two…”
On “Three!” both he and Nico released their last hold on the ship, tore down to the waiting lifeboat, and bade Svetta “Launch! Now!” As the crew plummeted the few feet down to the sea, they could see their ship, the Broken Light, make for the shore.
Dropping the lantern in the small pool by his feet, Sinead grabbed his mother’s hand and they tore back up the side of the cliff as the ship finally ran ashore. Peeking out around the boulders, through the half-light of the storm, Sinead waited. Grumbling sounds and splintered wood rent the air. When nothing on the wrecked ship stirred, he began, testily, making his way down to the massive vessel.
The front of the ship was smashed to bits. Sinead testily began inching up the battered, dripping wood. As soon as he got close enough to set foot on the deck, two monstrous—booms—burst in the air, in a flurry of colorful fireworks. He slipped, landing in a pile of rope and fish guts, heart hammering. Before he regained his ability to breathe, three heads appeared behind him, laughing like small African mammals. Cap’n Finley, who was securing the small lifeboat on the shore, rolled his eyes at his crew.
“Ohh, sowweee,” the other boy sing-songed. “Did our wittle fireworks scaaaare you?”
The smallest one kept laughing, but turned to help the captain.
The darkest one chuckled, swinging herself on deck. “O-oh, we’re just havin’ a laugh at ya, no need to be all panicked.” She extended a hand and helped him up. The three clamored down back down to the slippery shoreline, following Svetta back to the captain.
“Look at the poor thing,” the captain said. “Spooked out of his mind, he is, and it’s all your fault. I should have known better than to let you be the one navigating.” He glared at his helmsman, who smiled and shrugged, her luminous eyes dancing. “He deserves better than a firecracker welcome from you cavorters. He’s done what he can to lead us to safety; the least we can do is thank the young lad.”
And, with that, the captain doffed his suede-leather cap and, bowing, inclined a skull-ful of wiry grey hair to Sinead. “On behalf of me wife, me family, an’ the whole crew of me sailing vessel—the Broken Light—I, Finley L. Veneer, Late of His Majesty the King’s Royal Navy, sailing—“
Ma O’Padraig huffed from the rocky shoreline behind them. “Oh, do stow it, Captain. We’ve done our part, yes, but your crew’ll be froze solid ‘afore you’ve sorted the pleasantries.” Addressing, now, the other seamen shivering on the rocks, “Oh, do come back with us and dry off a bit. Besides, that boat’s not fit to be returnin’ to for some time considerable.”
The captain, who didn’t seem the slightest bit unruffled by the usurpation of his leadership, led the company back to the O’Padraig’s hovel. Behind him was Svetta, who was second in command, by the looks of it. Once inside, the light of the fire made her locks look as if they were spun from pure gold.
Then Nico, whose skin was the color of the night sky. It terrified Sinead’s sisters, when the crew first walked in; but she pulled shiny, colorful scarves from the seemingly bottomless pockets of her greatcoat and they soon deemed her acceptable.
Then there was Tom. He was standing before Sinead’s younger sisters, with a few potatoes in his hands. He as attempting to juggle them, but they kept slipping from his fingers, all different shapes and weights. “Hang on a tick…” he muttered, and began rummaging around in one of the packs they’d divested upon entering. From its depths, Tom pulled three green apples. Shiny in the flickering light from the fire, the mere sight of them caused similar lights to well up in the eyes of the two little girls watching.
Cap’n Finley noticed, even if Tom didn’t. As the latter set to work throwing them around in a blinding fury that had the girls shrieking with delight, the Cap’n motioned to Svetta. When she was near enough to hear his whisper, she nodded a few times, then ducked back outside.
“The real trick,” Tom was saying, “is to plan where your hands will be before you toss up the apple. That way–” he tossed the first of them up– “you can work the tosses–” the second one– “into a regular routine–” and the third. A smile spread across his face as his juggling picked up speed, “See?” He caught all three with a flourish, and bowed, feigning bashfulness. The little girls cheered, as did Ma O’Padraig, remembering, in the half-light, some faint recollections of traveling circuses and the apples they would buy with drizzled caramel. She sighed at the thought, moving over to the fire to stir the lamb stew again. Rather pathetic, really, she thought. Won’t be enough to be filling up the likes of these.
Just then, the door stammered again, and there was Svetta, clutching several packages and sniffling against the chill of the rain.
“Ach,” Nico explained, and moved to help. As they settled the packages down on the dirt floor—what small portion was not thick with mud by now—, Svetta began rattling off orders. Between the four of them, they’d soon unwrapped three flasks of poteen, a watermelon, a basket of rolls, a dozen fish, and some ill-packed pudding.
There was much feasting and merriment that night, and, in spite of only having one lamb, Ma O’Padraig never worried if everyone had eaten their full.