y o h o y o h o
When the man stepped off of his boat and onto the deck, he turned a great deal of heads. He was not a first time visitor to this port, and this was not the first time that whispers had spread like wildfire through the town upon his arrival — the head of one old gossip turning to the next to share the rumors that revolved around who, and what this man was. The real truth was that which only a handful of trustworthy people knew, and would keep a secret, for the sake of an ancient tradition.
It was the unmistakable hat that sent the accusations flying, the vibrant red one perched atop his head with the peacock feather spilling out the side. It was a good, spacious hat that did its job well — concealing most of the face of its wearer. That hat had been seen plastered on many a wanted poster above of various faces that people imagined could be the true image of the most notorious pirate ever to set sail on the seas. But no one was sure whether this hat, worn by the mysterious man who strutted deftly and unhesitatingly through the town as if he owned it, was the original or one of its many lookalikes that had been manufactured by wannabes and people who fancied a good laugh.
Some of the townsfolk would claim that it was the infamous pirate, whose reoccurring visits could be explained by an unknown attachment he held to the town. Others would say that he was merely nothing more than a devoted follower sent to run errands who loved to manifest his master's trademark. Skeptics would shake their heads, believing that he was just another pretender who wished to draw attention to himself. But none of these speculations had enough proof behind them to be taken to the authorities, to arrest the man who, whatever the case it may be, was undoubtedly up to mischief.
The man walked quickly and surely, impassive to the awestruck onlookers. It was clear that he was already aware of the location of his destination, and it was a path he had walked many times before. He trekked through the crowd which dispersed for him readily, looking forwards and nowhere else. He had business to attend to, and would not allow for distractions. He slipped out of the view of the majority and turned into an alleyway behind a middle class residential area, kicking a stone with his boot and coming to a stop in front of a back door to a small house with rotten wood and chipped paint. He knocked firmly on the door three times.
Unknown to the civilians, the real scandal was that the man was...
The door opened, and a voluptuous blond woman opened the door. Her face split into a smile, and she leaned a hip against the door frame. She stared at the man, her amber eyes twinkling with a motherly sort of fondness and tenderness. "Ah, Sakura."
Not a man at all.
"Hello, Tsunade. It's been a while, hasn't it?"
C h a p t e r I
The sea was calm. Like a great, rippling, crystalline blanket thrown over the horizon it stretched on for miles and miles — the only thing that could be seen to the human eye in any direction. I stood at the side of the boat, my hand gripping the smooth railing, and breathed in the scent of salt water and freshly polished wood. Three hundred and fifty tons of Red Cherry imported from Brazil had gone into the making of the boat, sleek and slender, faster than any other and the humbling pride of the military. It was a beautiful vessel, and to stand on it while it embarked on it's maiden voyage was, I suppose, an honor.
In reality, I couldn't have cared less.
Sailing had never been, and still wasn't, something I enjoyed immensely. It was for the most part a nauseating experience, as I had yet to acquire, as other's might have put it: 'My sea legs.' But as my position in the military advanced, it was something that I would have to grow accustomed to. I would be spending a great deal more time on a boat. I let out a sigh, but the sound was last to the gently whistling wind.
"Ah, Lieutenant, was it?" A hand tapped me on the shoulder and I whirred around to find myself face to face with an older man wearing an eye patch. Tall, gravity defying ivory hair stood up on end, leaning to one side of his head. I had seen him wandering around the ship several times before, chatting with my superiors and the governor, and came to the conclusion that whoever he was, he was someone of importance. I stood up straighter and respectfully. His visible eye crinkled with his smile. "Lieutenant Uchiha, correct?"
I nodded briskly and replied with a curt "Yes sir."
"I've been hearing some impressive things about you." He spoke leisurely, as if we were old friends, leaning up against the railing and skipping past all the orthodox formalities of introduction. "Is it true that you out fenced your father, god rest his soul, a couple years ago?" He quirked a gray brow in disbelieving curiosity.
"Yes sir, that is true." I recalled the incident with bitter nostalgia. "In his defense, however, he had a bit to drink beforehand." He chuckled lightly, his eye resting on me, looking up and down without any scrutiny.
"Hmmm." He hummed interestedly, pursing his lips together as if he were trying to decide what to do with me. I stood still and expressionless, even though his gaze was beginning to grow a little uncomfortable on my personage. "It's still quite an accomplishment. So young, too. I knew your father well. He was a good man." His words surprised me, even though it wasn't uncommon that I came across old companions of my father. My father had become a high ranked militant officer in his day, and had gotten around quite a bit. There were as many people who admired him as there were those who hated him. "Am I wrong to assume you wish to follow in his footsteps?"
I tried very hard to keep a professional facade, but my father and other members of my deceased family were a very touchy subject. I had to suppress shaking in my hands, and clenched them, hopefully unnoticed, at my side. "I intend to remain within the military, yes." I replied. The corners of his lips turned down, and he stared at me in silence once again. It gave me cause to wonder if he was trying to look through me and see something that I kept on the inside, trying to determine and categorize me, and wonder even more so if he was succeeding.
"It's very noble work." He replied finally, in such a way that I expected a 'but' to come afterwards. It didn't. Instead he changed the topic, sheepish smile returning to his aged features once more. "There's a friend of mine I'd very much like you to meet, who is also very adept with a sword. It would make for an interesting match. Someday, maybe." He said. "Oh, I almost forgot why I came over here in the first place. The cook broke his butcher's knife, and there's another set below the deck. The captain was wondering if you might fetch it for him."
"I'll see to it immediately," I replied, and he thanked me. I was eager to get away from our conversation, and him, even though I wasn't quite sure whether I liked him or not quite yet. I hurried below deck before he could pursue me further, searching for the crates marked kitchenware. The boat rocked and I stumbled, muttering a curse under my breath.
My father had been a very traditional man who had devoted his life to the crown and had been present in my childhood infrequently. I both idolized and loathed him, and would strive constantly for his approval and recognition, rarely gaining it. My mother, who was very much in love with my father, raised us on her own to appreciate him and his work. In the eyes of my family, there was nothing more honorable than a job serving under the monarchy. And my elder brother, who had rebelled constantly against them and their ideas, had been the one to kill them both.
I can still remember the color of his blood, and how it gleamed on my blade when I drove it through his heart to reek my vengeance. It had brought me little satisfaction and even less peaceful nights of sleep. There was nothing left to me or my future but my job and my position, and I would give the rest of my life freely to service in the military.
The boat jostled again, and a couple of crates shifted. Coming from a darkened corner behind a stack of crates came a startled, high-pitched yelp. There was a stowaway aboard the ship. Acting instinctively, I drew my sword from and crept silently towards the source of the cry. Standing on my tiptoes, sword raised and ready, I peered over the boxes and caught sight of quickly retreating dark indigo locks. I sighed and re-sheathed my weapon. "Hinata..."
"I-I'm sorry," The petite figure of my fiancée stuttered timidly, looking up with wide, frightened pale eyes. "Please don't be angry with me, Lieutenant... Please don't tell! Th... They'll throw me overboard." Her eyes glistened with unshed tears, and she put a curled finger to her trembling lips to still them. "I just..."
She was the heir to the respectable Hyuuga, and it was arranged long ago that to join our two families we were to be married. She was a chronically shy and not very intelligent thing, and I didn't much care for her. But marriages weren't about love, as my father once told me, they were about unity. And to go against his will, even after his death, was something I was incapable of doing. "They will not throw you overboard." I reassured her, as there were few things I hated more than to see women cry. It was incredibly annoying. "You're the daughter of a very important man. Explain to me what you are doing here."
I offered her my hand and she took it, lifting herself precariously out from behind the clever hiding place. She quivered and kept her distance, as if anticipating a serious scolding. "I'm so sorry..." She managed to force out. "It's just that I thought the sea so very pretty and I've never been on a boat before... I thought it would be fun. Please don't be angry with me."
I shook my head. We would have to turn the boat around immediately to return her back to town, but somehow, watching her on the verge of tears, I couldn't bring myself to tell the captain. "I will not inform the captain of this." I said, and her mouth cracked into a smile and started into a thank-you before I interrupted her. "But I will be notifying your cousin. He will do what he sees fit from there."
She sunk downwards, using one of the crates as a seat, as if she could no longer bear to stand. Her face paled several shades as she mouthed his name, before hiding herself behind her hands. I saw the waterworks coming and hastily retreated, forgetting momentarily about the butcher's knife until I returned above deck, and by then it was too late. I reminded myself that I would have to retrieve it later, and set out to search for Neji Hyuuga.
I was not surprised to find him with a scope pressed against his eye, looking out into empty seas. "Lieutenant." He greeted unaffectionately, wordlessly passing the scope to me. "Take a look at this. Your eyesight is as good as mine, nowadays." He pointed a finger and I pressed the magnifying tool against my eye, squinting as I stared out into the waters. There was a black speck, like an ant, on the horizon, approaching speedily. "There. Do you see it? It's coming right towards us."
"Yes." I replied. "Is it one of ours?" I handed it back to him and he extended it further before looking out at the nearing object once more. He shook his head.
"None of the other vessels in our military are charted to sail through these parts. It's probably Spanish, I'd guess by the make of it. We should alert the Captain anyway." He abandoned watching the other boat and turned hastily towards the helm, but I stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. "What is it? Do you disagree?"
"No. Hinata is hiding below deck. I found her when I went to search for a replacement knife for the cook. I figured you were better qualified to deal with her than I. I've got more important matters to attend to." I lied. "I can't be bothered with this right now."
He frowned, his eyebrows drawing together, his pale eyes ablaze with anger. "I see. You haven't told the captain yet?" I shook my head, replying that I left the decision to do that with him. "Regardless, we should decide what to do with her together. Please accompany me to see her as her fiancé, she is too, your responsibility."
I obliged reluctantly. He lead a few paces ahead of me, and I let out a frustrated sigh when I was out of ear range. Even when it was nothing more than a test run for a new ship, it was inevitable, it seemed, that something would go wrong. My work was never done, and now what was supposed to be a relaxing retrieve, (even if I had never enjoyed sailing,) would have to be ended prematurely to return my fiancée back home. Neji thundered down the steps to meet the face of his cowering, waiting younger cousin.
"Hinata, your father would be ashamed." He began, and sensing a long lecture on his part and miserable sobs on hers, I tuned out until I was required in this conversation. As he rambled on about family and honor, and the disrupted maiden voyage, I searched the room with my eyes for the stored kitchenware. "You will apologize formally to the Captain, and this type of behavior will not be tolerated again. Am I understood?" He finished.
As I spotted at last the crate marked 'Kitchen Utensils,' the first canon tore through the side of the ship, whizzing right past the three of us, and exploded against the crate I had spent so long searching for.
Wooden debris and forks were sent flying every which direction, and the three of us hit the ground. Screams and yells of frantic orders filled the air, coming from above us, while the crew of our ship prepared a counter attack. While we had been too busy deciding what to do with the young Ms. Hyuuga, our discovery of an approaching vessel had gone unnoticed and unannounced. Neji pulled his cousin towards him protectively. "Stay below here with her and keep her out of harms way!" I bellowed at him, over the sound of scrambling bodies and firing canons. "Relocate if you must! I'm going up!"
Taking a clear shot for the stairs I ran upwards as more heavy cannonballs ripped through the freshly made ship and out the other side. The boat rocked harder than ever before, and I tripped on the stairs, preventing a fall by grabbing onto the railing. Behind me, Neji and Hinata were scurrying to safety. I gritted my teeth together, and gathering up another burst of strength, raced above the deck. It was sheer chaos. People desperately called instructions, which were ignored by the frightened and feeling crew. From the ship parallel to us, bodies swung across on ropes and invaded.
The first one to catch my eye was a loudmouthed blond, whose spikes of golden hair could be seen from beneath the black bandannas that whipped in the wind behind him as he sailed through he air from their ship to ours. He was screaming enthusiastic orders at his comrades, speaking so quickly and fluidly I could barely make out one word he spoke from the other. "Find the valuables, mates!" He barked, landing with a thud on the wooden deck. "Don't let anything go to waste! We're sinking this ship, and if a single galleon is lost with it, the Capt'n will have your heads!"
Mine. My target in sight, I lurched forwards, drawing my weapon. He noticed me right before I slashed through his neck and lopped of his head, blocking just in time as he stumbled backwards with a look of shock plastered on his face. "Over my dead body!" I hissed through my teeth, pushing him backwards before withdrawing and taking another lash at him.
He blocked again. "Gladly arranged, you military scum!" He replied. We engaged. Swords flying quickly, he made for a decent opponent, but not decent enough. It was clear that I was quickly gaining the upper hand and pushing him backwards, and as soon as he realized this, he retreated towards the front of the ship. I followed relentlessly in pursuit, trailing as he fled towards the helm. He turned to face me, blue eyes narrowing, and backed against the railing, flimsy sword raised defensively. "Ch. That all you got?"
He was cocky for someone who was inches from death. "You made a mistake, coming here today." I said, advancing towards him. He continued to block my blows, but they were becoming clumsier. "I could kill all of you dogs singlehandedly, if I had to." I spotted an opening, and lunged forward, stopping only a split second before penetration when his face split into an ear to ear smile.
"Sweet! We got us a whore!"
I span, horrified, as I watched some unknown figure carry my flailing fiancée across the waters and into the enemy vessel.
Instantly, there were more important things to do than kill someone not worth my killing. I ignored my previous opponent and ran as fast as my legs could carry me after Hinata's abductors, not pausing even when seeing the horrible sight that surrounded me. We had lost. Defeated, wounded soldiers attempted to pick themselves up as our victorious enemy returned to the ship with our goods. It had all been over so quickly. So unexpectedly. I fumbled around to grab a rope, fighting off any pirates that tried to bar my way.
The beautiful ship with her short lived life was sinking beneath my feet. It's passengers hurried into lifeboats. The remainder of the pirates sailed across to their vessel, and I followed afterwards, determined to at least prevent them from taking this one thing with me. I would protect her, I would rescue her, for the sake of those who could not. I wondered briefly about the fate of her older cousin, and then shook the thought out of my head. I landed on the railing of the unfamiliar ship, letting the rope I had come across on fall limp and to a rest.
I was severely outnumbered, and possibly boasting when I claimed that I could singlehandedly kill all of them. Countless hungry faces turned towards me, wearing malicious smiles, but I would not show them fear. The blond held Hinata, who struggled against his chest with tears streaking down her cheeks, sobbing hysterically and pleading to be released. "Give me back the girl." I said boldly. "And I might just let you all live."
There came laughter, from one body, and the remainder of the company fell still and silent. They shuffled out of the way as a figure emerged from the crowd of bodies, howling in chuckles as he went, clutching the sides of his dirtied shirt. On the top of his head he wore a hat. A hat that I immediately recognized, but thought to be nothing more than myth or legend. A wide-brimmed, red hat, with a peacock feather tucked into the side.
The infamous Captain Hokage was a little on the short side, I noted.
"Who is this guy?" He snorted, straightening himself upwards. I tried to catch a glimpse of his face, but could see nothing but indefinite features behind shadow, the tip of a nose, and the clean-shaved face beneath it. He did not seem to be much older than I was myself, and this astounded me. I had never thought the rumors of the timeless captain to be true, and thought, if he existed at all, that he would be an ancient, wrinkled old man. "He's hilarious! I might just let him live to be my monkey boy!"
The band of pirates roared with laughter. He stepped forward, his head directed towards me, a smile drawn across his lips. "Lieutenant, eh?" He said. His voice was a high, light tenor and would probably be very ineffective at striking fear into anything, let alone a seasoned soldier like myself, if that was his intention. He was quite obviously eying my uniform, and then drifted towards my sword. "Lieutenant what?"
"Lieutenant Give-me-back-the-girl-and-you-live-to-see-another-day." I replied. Swiftly, I jumped from the railing onto the deck below, satisfied that I was a good head taller than my opponent. A couple of the crew reached for weapons, but the Captain dismissed them with a wave of his hand. He took another few steps forwards, until we were only feet apart, and rested his hand on the hilt of his own sword.
"Is that so...?" He said thoughtfully. His small, slender hand then reached up towards and skimmed the brim of his hat in display. "Well I bet you my hat that you can't match my swordplay, Lieutenant Give-me-back-the-girl-and-you-live-to-see-another-day." He mocked playfully, drawing himself up and unsheathing a well crafted sword. "In fact, if you are the triumphant end of our duel, I will give you back the girl AND grant you save voyage on my vessel to wherever your whimsical desire may take you." He slipped into fencing position, extending the blade of his sword in offer. "En garde?"
"I don't want your hat." I replied haughtily. "No self respecting person would wear such a ridiculous thing. But I accept your offer, regardless. I must inform you, however, that this deal is in my favor. My fencing skills are unparalleled in these parts."
It was somewhere before I had finished speaking, but the Captain froze, dumbfounded. His subordinates wore similar expressions, and remained as silent as death. "You..." He whispered, the sound that emerged from his throat sounding choked and squeaky. "You insulted my hat!" He reared himself up, furious, and let out an offended scoff. "Well, I must inform you that your fencing skills might have been unparalleled in these parts — that is until I arrived in these parts. You won't be able to so much as remove this hat from my head, insolent swine! En garde!"
Even before I had the chance to react, he had thrown himself towards me, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by the wild thrashing and brandishing of his weapon in my general direction. I managed to meet most of them with my own sword, but a few managed to slice through a sleeve or pant leg, not deeply enough to meet flesh. I was being pushed backwards quickly by the fury blinded blows, but the Captain's irrational behavior had given me the advantage. The inability to think calmly and logically is a serious and common flaw found in most fencers who fancy themselves talented.
It wasn't long before I was the one advancing on him, forcing him into the defensive as he retreated backwards and redirected his energy into keeping up with me. The crew cheered him on wholeheartedly, crying out in worry and tossing in advice and insults directed at me as I pushed him back towards the other end of the boat. "C'mon, Capt'n! Stop going easy on him!" The blond yelled. Hinata had fallen limp in his arms, watching with her teeth against her nails in anxiety. But she had no reason to worry, it was only that idiot who didn't realize that the Captain wasn't going easy on me.
The Captain scowled, turning his lips downwards and bearing his teeth. He was pulling out only the most desperate of moves now, jumping around erratically in an attempt to confuse or deter me momentarily. I swiped when he tried to swivel out of the way, cutting through the loosely fit, stained white shirt that spotted with freshly drawn blood. He gasped in surprise, and I took his pause as an opportunity to knock the hat off his head with the back of my other hand triumphantly.
Pink hair tumbled down to her shoulders, and she stood there, stunned, green eyes wide with surprise.
I had been fighting with a ... The legendary Captain Hokage was a..! "Woman??" I spluttered.
But that was it. I had been floored so wholly by her unexpected identity that I could do nothing to defend myself when she snapped back into her senses and slashed at me besides stumble backwards, where a protruding leg was waiting to trip me. I fell over onto my behind, and her sword rested at my throat. Hinata called out in protest and burst into cries once more as I dared to look up into the furious emerald orbs of the Captain of the pirate ship.
She looked enraged for only a short while longer, before a victorious grin edged it's way onto her features. "Take the wench to the brig!" For a moment I thought she was referring to Hinata, but then she continued. "Maybe I'll have a little fun with him later, eh?" She threw her head back and laughed, and the rest of the crew joined her in a loud chorus.
I watched, kicking and struggling against a couple of burly crew members who were dragging me below deck, as the Captain squatted next to her hat and shoved it back on her head with an angry huff.
A P i r a t e s L i f e F o r M e