It was probably a good thing Tomas didn’t know anything about being a cabin boy on an airship, or he would have stayed home, despite the lure of treasure. Even Aunt Belinda’s shrill whining was preferable to Captain’s shouting.
“What do you think this is? A luxury ride?” Captain’s jaws flapped. “You’re not the bloody queen. Swooning over a bit o’ hard work. When I said I want the deck to be clean, did you think I was talkin’ in riddles?”
There was a pause as Tomas realized that Captain expected an answer.
“That’s right. Because riddles are for blasted rich folk who have nothing better to do than come up with difficult ways to say something simple.”
There was another pause and Tomas didn’t know whether he was supposed to agree or stay silent. When his Aunt was scolding him, she did all the talking. Tomas could let his mind daydream about flying serpents and the rainbow candy the store on the corner sold, and as long as he was looking at her, she had no idea he wasn’t listening.
“Why are you standin’ there boy? Get to scrubbing!”
Tomas jumped. “Yes Captain!” He almost saluted, but was glad he didn’t. The Captain would have taken it as mockery. And maybe Tomas would have meant it that way. The bulking man and his billowing voice unnerved him, but Tomas silently laughed every time the Captain gave him a hard time. Tomas would show him he was no swooning queen when he took the treasure right from under his glaring eyes.
Tomas dropped to his knees and scrubbed with gusto until the Captain turned and aimed his ill attention and his bullfrog voice at some other crew member, then he slowed to an even more sluggish pace than he had before the captain’s admonishment.
It didn’t matter if Captain thought him capable of scrubbing the deck or not. He’d be leaving as soon as he could. And he wouldn’t be coming back here, or to his Aunt’s. Well, maybe he would go back to his Aunt’s. His lips curved in a slow smile as he thought of the look of jealousy on his cousins’ faces when they saw how wealthy he was. The two older boys would scowl at him like they’d been stung in the rear once they realize that, for once, he had something they didn’t. And what would they do all day long without him to tease and torment? The two were too stupid to amuse themselves, and they were counting on Tomas coming back after this voyage.
They’d laughed when he told them he was going to work as a cabin boy. They told him he would quit after one trip and come crying back. Even his Aunt didn’t think he would actually do it, though he could tell by the way she kept describing life on an airship as the most exciting things since the invention of clocks and how 13 was a perfect age to start exploring the world, that she was hoping he would go through with it.
They’d regret treating him like it was his fault he was orphaned and had to live with them for the past two years when he refused to give them even a single coin from the vast wealth he would attain from this trip.
“Boy!” The Captain’s voice snapped the grin off his face and wiped the grandiose plans from his mind. “Are you a maiden awaiting her wedding night? Wipe that daydreaming girl look off your face.”
Tomas’s face went pink, and some of the crewmembers snickered. He focused his attention on the hard-bristled brush in his hand as he dunked it forcefully into the bucked, splashing water over the sides, and began furiously attacking the deck.
Someone kicked the bucket and mud colored water spilled over Tomas’s breeches. A scrawny boy, in his early twenties stood grinning at him with a smile short a tooth.
“You better clean that up, cabin boy,” said the boy Tomas recognized as Jabin.
Tomas glanced to where the captain had stood, and for the first time, felt a twinge of disappointment that he wasn’t there. Unlike Aunt with her sons, he didn’t let crew members bully each other.
Tomas picked the bucket up and almost smashed it against Jabin’s boney kneecap, but with other members of the crew watching, he didn’t think that was such a good idea. He didn’t know whose side they’d take, but, being new, chances of anyone standing up for him were slim. They were all bigger and older than him too. He could say goodbye to life if they all jumped on him.
Tomas settled for slamming the bucket as he set it upright. “You’ll be sorry,” he murmured, thinking of ways to get back at Jabin once he was wealthy.
“What did you say?” Jabin took a step toward him. Tomas stood and put the bucket under his arm so he could fill it with more water.
Jabin stepped in his way and grabbed the front of his shirt. “I’m talking to you cabin boy.” His breath smelled like old cheese.
“I can see that, but I’m not talking to you,” Tomas said.
The boy released his grip and shoved his chest. Tomas fell backward, hitting his head on the deck. The bucked clattered and rolled a few feet away. He pushed himself to his elbows to see Jabin looming over him with an all too familiar sneer. His cousins would sneer like that when they were about to beat him like a butcher does raw meat.
His eyes shifted to the watching crew members. None of them moved to stop Jabin.
“You’re the one going to be sorry, cabin boy,” he said, letting Tomas know he heard his comment.
A sudden rush of anger surged through Tomas. He’d left his Aunt’s to get away from situations like this. Would he spend his whole life being picked on, cursed at, and generally despised?
“You’ll all be sorry once I have the treasure!” Everyone froze, even Jabin whose rat-like face was scrunched in confusion. Tomas inwardly groaned. He wasn’t supposed to let anyone know that he knew about the treasure.
“What the blazes is going on?!” Captain’s bulky frame strode into Tomas’s view. Jabin‘s body jerked like a bolt of lightning had struck his scrawny frame.
“The cabin boy spilled his water and was refusing to get more Captain,” he said in a rush. “I was just trying to get the lazy buggard to do his job.”
The captain fixed his scowl on Tomas, but didn’t say anything as if waiting for him to explain. Tomas wondered if it was even worth opening his mouth to defend himself. His aunt never listened when he told her it was her boys threw the first punch.
“That’s not what happened captain.” A tall, blond boy who looked to be about 17 or 18 stepped out from behind the captain.
“Well don’t just stand there Lancel. If you have something to say, spit it out.”
“He kicked the bucket over,” Lancel said, pointing to Jabin, “and then told Tomas to clean it up. Which Tomas began to do, even though he had every right to tell Jabin to do it, since he’s the one who knocked it over.”
“Get to the point Lancel,” growled the captain, “Why is the boy sprawling on the ground like a drunken ninny.”
Lancel didn’t seem at all ruffled by Captain and continued speaking in the same even pace. “Tomas said something under his breath, which anyone would have done in that circumstance, and Jabin gave him grief about it.”
“I suppose by ‘grief’ you mean threw him to the deck like a sack o’ potatoes?”
“Anyone else see anything different?” the captain asked the other crew members.
When none of them said anything, Captain’s glowering gaze moved to Jabin, who shifted his weight from foot to foot and looked straight ahead, avoiding the captain.
“Well boy, you seem to be needin’ some extra work to do, since you have so much time to interfere with the work of others,” said Captain. “Finish scrubbing this deck, and when it’s been dirtied by the lot of you filth tramping across it, I’ll be calling on you to clean it up again.”
Tomas blinked. He didn’t have to finish cleaning and he got out of cleaning the next time? He wanted to laugh in Jabin’s face and thank him for pushing him.
“Yes Captain,” said Jabin stiffly.
“Get to it then. Don’t just stand there like a wet dog.” Jabin moved to do as he was commanded, and Captain looked down at Tomas. “Unless you like the boar bristle brush on that petal-soft skin of yours, you might want to get the blazes up.”
Tomas scrambled to his feet as Captain muttered something about being the only one keeping these cloud-brained group of boys together.
“You may want to watch that one captain,” said one of the crew members, nodding at Tomas. “He knows about the treasure.”
Tomas’s stomach tightened.
Captain scowled for a moment looking like the man was speaking another language. “Speak plainly. I don’t have time for riddles.”
“It’s not a riddle Captain. He says he’s after our treasure.”
Tomas wished Jabin had been quicker to throw a punch, then he wouldn’t have had time to say something so stupid.
Captain turned to Tomas, glaring down at him. “You’re after our treasure, are you boy?”
Tomas couldn’t speak. What would they do to him? Lock him below deck? Throw him overboard? Tomas imagined his body falling through the air and landing on some poor person’s roof. It was almost funny.
A low rumbling startled Tomas out of his morbid thoughts. Was that…Captain?
“Treasure!” The rumbling turned into a laugh that sounded like large barking dogs. “What do you think this is? A pirate ship? Perhaps you haven’t spent enough time below deck. Maybe you’d notice them creates piled high as the moon. This is a cargo airship boy!”
The crew’s laughter joined Captain’s and with each second, Tomas’ face turned a deeper shade of red.
Captain stopped laughing. “Alright, filthy lot. Enough dawdling. Get back to work or all have all of you scrubbing the deck.”
Tomas stood still while everyone else scrambled to their posts. Now that Jabin was scrubbing the deck, he had nothing to do. He was waiting for Captain to yell at him for standing there like a stunned beetle, when Lancel came to his side.
“Don’t feel too bad. It’s happened to more than you think.” The boy’s brown eyes were filled with laughter, but not in an unkind way.
“What? Jabin treating them like his personal mutt?”
“Thinking that the whole cargo things was just a clever cover up for a pirate airship.”
Tomas frowned and waited for Lancel to laugh at him. Instead, he leaned closer.
“Don’t tell anyone, but that’s why I joined the crew. I heard stories of treasures and pirates in disguise. Some even naming this very airship.” He laughed. “I thought I was headed for riches.”
“But it’s just a cargo ship.” Tomas held a small hope that Lancel would contradict him.
“Just a cargo ship. I’ve been with her since I was your age and there hasn’t been sight of treasure nor pirate.”
Tomas’s shoulders fell. How was he going to rub his wealth in his cousins’ faces if all he had to show for his trip were blistered hands and soiled clothes?
“It’s not so bad,” Lancel said, noticing Tomas’s glum expression. “Captain isn’t as grouchy as makes out to be, and the rest of the crew isn’t as bad as Jabin.”
Tomas shrugged, not sure if he believed that.
“Besides, what other job pays you to travel?”
“It doesn’t pay that much.”
Lancel laughed. “Maybe not, but once you get your taste of travel, you’ll wonder why everyone else stays on land in their little houses when the rest of the world is out there to explore.”
He sounded a bit like Aunt when she was making sure he stayed interested in leaving, but unlike his aunt, there was a light behind his eyes when he spoke, and Tomas decided he just might believe him.
“When we get to port, I’ll show you best taverns so you don’t get stuck eating at one of those over-priced ones tourists are saps for.”
Tomas was about to respond when a voice bellowed, “Lancel. Tomas. Quit gossiping like a couple o’ old women and pull your weight like the rest o’ us.”
“Yes sir Captain,” they both said.
Lancel gave Tomas a grin before leaving to ‘pull his weight.’” It was nice to have someone give him a real smile and not the sarcastic kind his cousins gave him.
Maybe he didn’t need wealth to rub in their faces. At least not the kind of wealth that came in gold coins. Maybe all he needed was to forget they existed. To start a new life, with new people who treated him better.
“You’re as deaf as codfish boy.” It was Captain again. “Quit moping around like a love-sick cow and get to work.”
Well, just new people, would have to do. He couldn’t imagine Captain treating him better, in spite of what Lancel said about him acting grouchier than he was.
I wrote this in response to day 3 of Writing 101. We were supposed to pick a word from the list they provided and let it inspire us. I saw the prompt last night, and knew I wanted to do something with treasure and airships, but I couldn’t think of what. I just sat there like a stunned beetle (as Captain would say) so I went to sleep. But morning brought clarity and inspiration and french toast (which doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but I thought I’d let you know).
Thanks for reading! I hoped you enjoyed it! And just because I don’t want to stop typing yet, here’s another story about a hunt for treasure that ended quite differently. Now that I think about it, I should have just used this. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble (and no it isn’t cheating to use a story you’ve already wrote…I think).