Greetings to all! I apologize for the lack of updates. The real world came calling for a few weeks. I chased it off with a flamethrower. Now on to the story!

DISCLAIMER: If you recognize it, I don't own it.


TONIGHT: PRESENTATION OF PIRATE GAMES CONTESTANTS!

7 O'CLOCK AT THE ANNE BONNY MEMORIAL THEATER

ATTENDANCE IS MANDATORY

BY ORDER OF THE PIRATE KING


The red velvet jacket stuck to his arms and shoulder blades. The belt was studded with glass gems and pulled a little too tight. A little red ribbon tied up his beard and turned its luxuriance to gaudiness. His fingers twitched, aching to tear it all off. "I don't know about this, Number Two…"

"Do you want to practice again, sir?" the Pirate With A Scarf asked as he and the others sat down.

Well, it was better than wishing he could punch his reflection. "Very well."

"I'll start!" the Albino Pirate chirped. Clearing his throat, he lowered his voice in imitation of the king. "Now, you lubber, what sort of terrible pirate things have you done lately?" he managed before dissolving into giggles.

"Er...let's see...I've had a few run-ins with Vicky." He flinched as the Pirate With Gout set off an air horn in his face, snickering. "Next question!" his lad said.

"Now, now. They'll give him more time than that," said Jenny.

"But I like this bit!"

The dressing room door opened, and an assistant stuck his head through. "Five minutes!" he said before disappearing.

"I think they've saved a few spots out there," the captain told his crew. "You ought to be going."

They nodded and filed out, casting worried glances over their shoulders. The Pirate With A Scarf was the last to go. "Just be yourself, sir. You'll do fine."

"You think so, Number Two?"

"I'm ninety-nine point nine percent certain of it."

"What are you still doing back here? Out!"

Scarf's protests echoed through the hall as the assistant chased him down it, punctuated by the slaps of broom bristles.


The crew members pushed their way to a table just as the auditorium lights were dimming. "Ladies and gentlemen," a voice announced, "the Pirate King!"

The curtain rose to reveal his shell, which he burst out of with a roar. "Hello, pirates!"

"Hello, Pirate King!" they shouted back, some less enthusiastic than others.

"Settle down!" he commanded, and the din of the audience subsided to a dull hum. "As you know, the twelve contestants of our Pirate Games have spent the last week training without relent! Tomorrow, their challenge begins! All but one of them shall fail miserably, but they shall all be able to say that they tried! And it is my honor and privilege to present them to you this evening! Let us welcome our first guest, Mr. Crossbones Nelson!"

And so it began. The first nine of the lot flounced onstage trying to look intimidating. As the king hurled questions at them, they hurled answers right back. It all began to run together after a while; all the talk seemed to be of plundering and ship sinking and who could shout the loudest. The most interesting thing to happen was Liz sauntering on in a dark red gown to a chorus of wolf whistles and throwing her sword between some poor fellow's legs. "I have no need to pretend that I am fierce. I am so by design."

"Good, very good!" the king said. "And why do you believe that you will win?"

"The men will simply give me their pieces. And the women? They will be too envious to notice me stealing them. Isn't that right?" she said, crossing her legs to thunderous applause.

Bellamy came out next, bowing to the crowd. "Thank you, thank you! You're too kind, really!"

"Sit down!" the king snapped.

"What can I say, folks love me."

"Why don't you tell them what you've been up to as of late, then?"

"Well," Bellamy said as he leaned back, "let's just say the Americans are going to get a nasty surprise the next time they check up on Fort Knox." The crowd oohed with glee.

"That is quite a feat," the Pirate King admitted. "However did you do it? What are your strengths?"

"Oh, too many to list. Next!"

The king rolled his eyes but continued nonetheless. "What makes you think you can win this competition?"

"Because I'm clever," he answered, a sly smile spreading across his face.

"We're almost done, I assure you," the king told the audience as Bellamy departed. "Next, the Pirate Captain."

The auditorium was nearly silent as he crept into view. The only cheers came from his crew. "Come on, Captain! You're going to be brilliant!"

"Er...thank you," he said with a timid wave. He dropped into the chair, trying to avoid the king's evil eye. "Lovely to be here…"

"What are your recent accomplishments?" the king snapped. "Spit it out!"

"I-I've made a fool of Queen Victoria. Then I found a plot to steal some silver and took it myself. Couldn't have done it without my lads."

"No one cares about your crew!"

"But…"

"Now, what can you do well?"

The captain was still in a daze. "I'm good with a cutlass, I suppose."

"And what are you doing here when you could be off someplace where you're wanted?"

"Because...because I want to say that I gave it a go," he answered, standing up. "That's all I want, really."

"Good, because that's all you're going to get!" The king pushed him offstage while the audience cheered. "And now, my subjects, the moment you have been waiting for! The best saved for last! Presenting Mr. James Finch!"

They applauded and looked to the edge of the stage, but there was no Finch. Then they jumped as the auditorium doors swung open. "Pardon me. Coming through. No autographs just yet."

"Finch, what in Neptune's name are you doing?" the king demanded.

Finch ambled through the rows of seats, smiling and nodding to the audience members as he passed. "I'm a man of the people, Your Majesty. Afraid it can't be cured."

The king paused before chuckling. "Good man! We need more like you!"

"I hope there are," he said, taking his seat.

"Tell us of your exploits, Mr. Finch!"

"Besides the obvious, I assume." He pretended to think for a few moments. "I took down a galleon and captured a dozen Spaniards at the Battle of Cazurra."

"You don't say!"

"I remember you being there as well, Your Majesty. Yes, you stayed safe on your boat and watched the carnage."

"...Well, what would we do if I was to be killed?"

"Quite true, quite true."

"Now, your strengths as a pirate, Mr. Finch?"

He turned to the audience, ignoring the king completely. "I make plans. I master all battles and leave my enemies in confusion. I am a leader."

The king was giving him a dark look. "And why do you…"

"I don't think that I will win," Finch said. "I can assure you that I will. Am I not right?"

The audience leapt to its feet and began to cheer. "Finch!" they cheered. "Finch! Finch! Finch!"

Now the king was glaring outright. The captain, who had been watching from the wings, slipped away.


"Fine thing for him we weren't sittin' closer," Emma muttered to herself as she stomped down the wharf. "Would have fed him his own teeth, I would…"

Scarf sighed. "Keep up with her," he told the others before heading back towards the theater. The captain was standing on the sidewalk watching as the other contestants met with the crowds before being loaded into their carriages. "You kept your composure very well, sir."

"What I am I doing, Number Two?"

"Er...standing?"

"Tomorrow morning, they're just going to gang up on me the moment we get to those islands. I'm doomed by myself."

"And what makes you think you know that?"

"Really?"

Scarf looked down for a second, thinking. "Do you know how they're supposed to be keeping up with you?"

"Parrots. We're to send messages back so they can see who's where and let us check with ours crews. So?"

"Just send us a note whenever you need some advice! That's allowed, isn't it?"

"Everything short of killing someone's allowed."

"Then you've got nothing to worry about! Just keep your focus on the game and let us do the worrying for you."

The captain laughed a bit. "Oh, you lot do enough of that already." He put a hand on the first mate's shoulder. "You're in charge if I don't come back. Understood?"

"You'll be fine, Captain."

"Come along!" an assistant said, pulling the captain away as another carriage pulled up to the curb. "You've a long day ahead."

The captain managed a tip of his hat before being shoved inside. Scarf watched it pull away and didn't move until it had disappeared around a curve. Understood, sir.