A Tall Ship Tale #32: Letter Rip

By Paul de Anguera.

After crossing the Egyptian desert at warp speed (which is to say, excruciatingly slowly), the crew of the flying frigate H.M.S. Legume rejoiced when a breeze lifted the sails at last. The First Mate and his men rushed to reel in the anchor. “To the ship’s wench!” they cried, galloping up to Emma Talligeist by the rail. She turned and studied them thoughtfully, deploying her fangs.

“I meant the ship’s winch, begging your pardon!” the First Mate amended, backing carefully away and proceeding to the capstan (so named because Captain Quid, who was of the short persuasion, liked to stand on it). A sea shanty stood on the deck nearby, and its walls were a convenient place for the crew to write up the words of their anchor-hoisting song, which went something like this:

Sixteen megs on a mother board,
Yo-ho-ho and an HDD!
Costs as much as an automobile, but
Three years old and it’s history!

The anchor soon appeared at the ship’s side. While the men catted it (the ship’s cat, although a patient beast, always objected to his part in this procedure), Quid resumed his position on top of the capstan while the First Mate stood nearby. The captain glanced wistfully at the ship’s wench. “Ever since that spy, Cilantro, absconded with my pinnace, things haven’t been the same,” he mourned.

“There’s something about Cilantro that irritates me,” the First Mate replied. “I just wish I could put my finger on it!”

Jim Dayman was splicing the mainbrace nearby. He nodded to himself, and the First Mate slapped his forehead. “Now I remember!” he cried. “I saw Cilantro drop a letter when we pressed him in Chapter 2, and I picked it up.” He stuck a finger in his shirt and fished the letter out. “It’s right here!”

“You’ve been wearing that shirt since Chapter 2?” Quid gasped, jumping off the capstan for more freedom of movement. But the First Mate wasn’t paying attention. He pulled out a rumpled sheet of paper, opened it and read:

“Your oar, dears! Art, to prose — cede to thee! Why douse, Anisette? Fie, you’re due wit!”

He furrowed his brow. “I gather that this writer goes on a boating excursion. He’s persuaded some young ladies to row the boat while he lolls in the bow and toasts the muses. Then Anisette (one of the sweet rowers, I expect) splashes him, and who could fault her for it? But the sloth is too lazy to take his turn at the oars, so he insults her intelligence. A bad move, I would say; perhaps he’ll be swimming back?”

“Fool!” the Captain growled, snatching the letter. “You forget that Cilantro is a spy. It’s an encrypted letter, not some Freudian floating fantasy!”

“I’m sorry, sir,” the First Mate apologized. “I thought I could decode it if I just got the story right. I was sure it was one of those…

“…Tales from decrypt!”

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