She looked up at the ship, its rotted planks warped by the sea water and plastered by the leavings of seagulls. It was still beautiful in her eyes, and although she could not say she was the more beautiful thing anymore, now that she was pushing 70, she didn’t feel quite so old looking at the shipwreck of The Dragonfly. After taking a moment to take in its crippled majesty, she hobbled up the rocks, cursing in achy stiffness as she went.
I used to be able to scramble over these rocks quick like a baboon, she thought, her cane working to find purchase on the slippery surfaces. She entered a small hole in the side of the ship and walked across the slanted, angled deck within.
She did not light a lantern: not only was the twilight still light enough to see through the various holes in the ship, but she knew its layout well. It was hers, once up on a time, her first ship. She could navigate it blind – remembering now bitterly having done so, once, temporarily blinded during an attack – and was fully confident that she could make her way to the captain’s chamber. She reminisced on when she had stolen this ship, after cutting down the captain in that room.
The door was open. She looked inside, and saw the silhouette of a man in the failing light streaming in from the broken windows. He was a tall man still, not stooped like her, though not far behind her: his hair and beard was all white now, and though his dark face was not half as wrinkled as hers thoroughly was, she could tell that even he had not stayed the Youngster.
The Youngster, she thought ruefully, her thin gnarled hands tightening on the nob of her cane. “Personally, Wetati, I would have stood in the corner over there,” she said pointing. “You could get the drop on anyone who enters by being behind them, rather than standing in plain view like an idiot”.
The old man smiled. “It’s good to see you, too, Yalefe,” he replied. They moved closer, with the slow deliberate steps of the aged, and embraced. As they separated, Yalefe held up the red-handled dagger she had stolen off his person. “You’re a sight for sore eyes, especially in times like these, but you really should sharpen your skills.”
“Is that so?” Wetati retorted by holding up a pair of brown-handled daggers he had taken off of Yalefe’s person.
“Oh! Found both of them, did you?”
“Don’t be silly, Yalefe. I know you always have more than two daggers. I just couldn’t find the other one.”
“Lady’s secret,” she said. They both smiled.
“I was a little surprised to see the dragonfly mark of ours,” Yalefe said. It was a paper message treated in an alchemist’s ink that was hidden, exposed only by flame or heat. “So, I guess that means you’re back in the game again, having escaped the authorities?”
Wetati said nothing, looking out the window. The moon wasn’t full, and the dark of night coming on quickly over them both. “The authorities aren’t a concern anymore.”
“My, you’re a confident one, aren’t you, Youngster?” She shook her head. “No, no, you forget Rule One! ‘Work hidden, always assuming they’re hunting for you’”.
Wetati said nothing more, sighing heavily. Yalefe’s smile receded, comprehending.
“Not a concern anymore, huh? What have you done?”
Wetati looked down on the hunched woman. “I’ve considered the future.”
“We can’t go on like this. You know this,” Wetati remarked, scratching the chin under his white beard. “Look at us: a couple of old pirates. You know why there are no old pirates? It’s a job for youngsters, people with the vim to skirt the law, not us old-timers.”
“I’m not old!” the old woman exclaimed.
“How long did it take to climb those rocks out there? How many curses did you cry out in agony hobbling your way to the cove here? Because it took me the better part of a day, what used to be a quick jaunt to this old hiding place of ours.”
Yalefe said nothing. She looked down at her gnarled hands on her cane.
“I have a grandson, you know,” Wetati added, wistful.
“What life might I arrange for him? What legacy should there be?”
“Since when do you care about that stuff?”
“Since I realized this couldn’t go on. Careers as pirates are usually short-lived, and I’m at my end. Past it, really.”
Yalefe sighed heavily. “I’m disappointed in you, Youngster. We’ve had a fine career as pirates for decades –”
“We’ve scraped by on and off. One of us would be imprisoned, and the other would help them escape, and we’d take turns, and lie low, and then go at it again, and all other manner of escapades. But we had one good con, one great adventure, borne of desperation years ago, and we’ve been trying to keep it going for years. You’ve been trying to relive that glorious luck for the better part of a half-century, and I say, ‘No more’”.
“There’s no rule that says there’s no old pirates. If we just steal a ship –”
Wetati scoffed in frustration. “‘Just steal a ship’. It always starts the same. And it always ends up the same.”
“Well of course, it’s a very important first step. Can’t be a pirate without a ship, you’re just a regular highway thief if you don’t steal on the sea.”
“I meant you’re always coming back to that, even though you can’t relive that night. That night we both became pirates in our youth.”
Yalefe chuckled softly. “You think I’m some mad criminal stuck in the past?”
“You came back to the shipwreck of our first ship, didn’t you?”
“… That doesn’t prove anything. We’ve used this as a meeting spot for a long time.”
“Yes … yes we have. But this will be the last time.” He pulled out a pistol from his red coat. “I have made arrangements with the local garrison to bring you in, in exchange for leniency, and a bounty.”
“We can get more money as pirates,” she retorted angrily, staring down the barrel. “Literally tons more.”
Wetati shook his head. “This is for my grandson. He’s too fragile since his parents died. I need to secure his future; he couldn’t live a pirate’s life like us.”
Yalefe was sternly staring at the pistol. “If you mean to take me in, you know I will put up a fight. Believe that I’m still fast enough, when I need to be, to cut off a man’s hand before he can shoot. So at least give me the honor of going down in a sword fight, if it must end like this. Let me go down like a pirate.”
Wetati lowered the pistol, holstering it back under his coat, and nodded. He drew a rapier from his hilt with that familiar dramatic scraping sound; Yalefe drew her sword silently that was concealed inside the shaft of her cane. It was very thin and sharp.
In the distance a seagull cried out, breaking the silence of the night.
Wetati swung first with a flourish, and Yalefe countered in a single motion. After a brief pause, scanning, she darted in with a shuffle forward, and missed. Wetati took his turn, trying to bring the tip of the blade around and around in her field of vision, fabulously fencing with one hand behind his back. Yalefe parried it easily, following the motion of Wetati’s blade and moving in. Wetati heard the clang of the blade on the floor, and felt the sting on his hand: she had cut him before he realized she had struck. He looked at his hand bleeding, grimacing, and stood up tall over her.
She pointed her sword at his face, then smiled. She sheathed it again, returning it to the form of a simple, unassuming cane, which she leaned on as she hobbled over to the dropped rapier.
“You always had a flair for the dramatic, Youngster. You had talent, but it would have served you better to learn actual sword-fighting, the practical stuff, rather than all that showy theater nonsense.”
Yalefe heard the cocking of the pistol behind her. As she turned, drawing her sword again, she saw that Wetati had already thrown a dagger at her, her third brown-handled dagger she realized, which she dodged to avoid, as part of one motion as Wetati aimed the pistol up. The shot went off, blasting through the hole in the ceiling, and there was a burst of light and a soft booming sound like an alchemist’s firework.
Wetati switched his handling on the gun so he might bludgeon with the grip as a last resort. “I did tell you: I had made arrangements, and am thinking about the future.”
Yalefe could hear in the distance formerly waiting men boarding the wrecked ship. Within a moment the six young officers had her surrounded, as well as Wetati for good measure. One of them, maybe all of twenty years old and with a full mustache, was the only one with stripes on his uniform and not aiming a rifle at her. She glared at him and then at Wetati.
“Please be gentle with her,” Wetati asked the officer, “but know she keeps many concealed weapons”.
He nodded. “Search her completely,” the officer instructed calmly, and in short order she was disarmed and handcuffed.
They exited the ruined ship. Some days later in the garrison dungeon, while gazing out over the waning moon, Yalefe received a letter from Wetati. She read it, taking in the full story, and his apology:
“… cannot in good conscience risk the well-being of the boy. He is my only living family. You, of course, have been there since my earliest days, but I have come, in my old age, to believe that I should be taking care of him, or there is nothing at all. Please don’t take this personally or think I meant to hurt you, my friend, and I hope and have asked repeatedly that you are being treated well in the prison. It’s just … I had no other way to secure the boy’s future, at least in a way that was both legal and long-term …”
After the tears dried and the fury cooled to dead embers, Yalefe began her own reply some days later.
“… hope all the best for you and your family, at least given what’s possible coming out of a life of piracy. And know that though part of me will always feel this sting of betrayal (for as long as an old sea hag like me has left!), most of me wishes for your happiness. Whether that is through piracy or through your family …”
After sending it off she kept the letter her friend had sent her. Periodically she would open it again to inspect that the usually sent lock-pick or file had not slipped her notice in the paper’s folds.