Tin Man: Pirates of the Nonestic

Chapter Twenty-one

The You and What Navy? anchored off a small island the next afternoon. The rules from yesterday must still be in force, because DG and Cain were going ashore with Betsy and Sprite. They rowed to the rickety dock in the dingy. Betsy straightened the blue and white striped sleeveless vest she wore over another long-sleeved white shirt.

Whatever problems Cain had had with Quincy, he hadn't let them deter him from new pants for him, and new shirts for both of them. The way Betsy treated her appearance made DG glad they had fresh clothes to wear while meeting this Shaman.

"Should we be nervous too?" Cain asked and DG heard the smirk in his voice, even if it wasn't visible.

Betsy scowled at him. "I have respect for power and those who use it wisely. The Shaman does. I don't go looking to piss her off on purpose."

"But pissing off Slate is fair sport?"

"Not really. It's a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent most times." Betsy sighed, "He earned his title, but the Island Navy has changed under his command." She led the way down the dock.

"By fighting pirates better?"

She glared at Cain's blank face. "By consolidating his ships around ports so large no pirates would ever attack them. By pressing boys Spencer's age from the smaller islands into service. By shanghaiing seasoned sailors; that's why Morgan and Jones joined our crew. By building warships to deal with a pirate menace that doesn't exist." She pressed her lips together before continuing. "Yes, Lawman, we steal and extort to get things that don't belong to us. But we have to sell those items to make a profit. Every pirate worth his salt knows you can't kill off your markets."

DG shrugged as Cain faced her with his raised scarred eyebrow. "No, I didn't tell her about your former occupation." She hurried after Betsy and Sprite, leaving Cain to bring up the rear.

The dock led to a wooden boardwalk built above the white sand beach. The buildings of this settlement were built off the boardwalk, made of plastered walls and roofs thatched with dried palm leaves. Betsy strode to the largest at the other end of the beach.

A black-skinned giant squatted next to the door and still seemed even with Cain's height. "Captain Bobbins and guests, the Shaman is expecting you." His large hand nudged the wooden-plank door open.

The room stretched up to the rafters holding the thatched roof. Colorful woven rugs hung on the plaster walls and rested over the hard dirt floor. Other than the shelves filled with jars, the circular table and chairs were the only furniture in the space.

A tapping sound filled the space. "So the good girl captain has come back." Cain pushed DG behind his back and she let him. Her magic crackled in response to the probing from the singsong voice coming out of the dark hallway on the other side of the room. "And she brings the Viewer child and more." A wizened, stooped woman entered the room. She wore a loose gown in a blue as bright as the waters surrounding the island and a purple turban covered her hair. The tapping noise came from the cane in her right hand as she moved forward, checking for obstacles. "Betsy-me-girl comes to beg for help, and she brings witnesses to see her beg." She sat at the table and DG saw that her eyes were covered with a milky film. "That alone should make the Shaman pause."

Betsy sat down across from her. "You're looking well, Shaman."

"The gods still have work for me to do. I 'spect to wake up one day on their side, so each day I don't is another I'm here to consult. Let's start with the one who wants nothing in return." The Shaman shifted in her seat until she looked directly at Sprite. Her smile lifted all the wrinkles on her face. Sprite beamed. "Your journey's end, the end you wish for, is very close now. All signposts have been reached, but there is danger ahead. I pray you not fall to it."

Betsy's hand clenched into a fist on the table. "I won't let Sprite come to harm."

The Shaman turned her blind gaze back to Betsy. "You taunt the King unless you give up this quest. That endangers the child. Will you stop seeking the domain of living rock?"

"You know I won't."

"And you know I won't lie to anyone." The Shaman blinked her blind eyes. "Now ask."

Betsy pulled the astrolabes out of her belt pouch. "The magic one has been split and we can't put it back together."

The Shaman sighed as her clouded eyes swept over Betsy again. "You shed blood over this already."

"Pyrite was a betrayer." Her brown eyes didn't flinch. "I'm willing to face your boogeyman for my treasure, and you don't think I'll kill for that?"

"It's not me you must convince. And I cannot give you absolution." The Shaman hung her cane on the edge of the table. Her head tilted to stare at Cain with blind eyes. "What does a Tin Man guard across desert and sea?" Her eyes dropped and bored into DG's until she hid her face behind Cain's arm. "You cannot hide from me, woman-child."

DG took a deep breath and stepped beside Cain. "Hi."

The Shaman's ashy, dark skin paled as DG felt magic wash over her. "By the gods, Betsy-me-girl, what are you thinking? Are you thinking?"

Betsy twisted her head to look at DG and then the Shaman. "Trying to work everything out to everyone's benefit. I get what I want and they get out of a nasty slavery situation. What's the problem?"

The old woman chuckled, a rich sound coming from a shriveled being. "And I thought I'd seen all in life, gods be praised." DG looked up at Cain to find him looking down at her. "You know not who you have."

Betsy swiveled between both magic users. "Okay, that should be pretty damn obvious by now."

"She is the lost Princess of the Outer Zone." The Shaman waved at DG. "The one raised on another world, Slayer of the Sorceress." Betsy's eyes widened as she stared at DG.

"Exorcised, not dead," DG hissed.

Cain squeezed her arm. "Let that be."

"You plan on taking a daughter of the House of Gale to the domain of living rock?" The Shaman pressed her hands on the table. "The sleeping Nome King will surely wake at that. He changed the shape of the land to escape the House of Gale. Do you understand at last why you must stop, Betsy-me-girl?"

The blood had drained from Betsy's face. "Is it true?"

"I didn't slay the Sorceress," DG huffed and Cain sighed. "Yeah, I'm Dorothy Gale of the House of Gale, please call me DG. But I quit being the Princess."

"Quit? You abdicated the throne?"

"No, she ran away," Cain answered. Betsy looked horrified.

"No one told me there was a formal ceremony to quitting! Announcing it on the Other Side works just fine!" DG threw up her hands.

"What is it with me and royalty? Do I have a magnet or something?" Betsy soothed her hair back from her forehead as she grappled with the information.

"The more important question is what are you doing messing with the Nome King?" Cain shifted to glare at Betsy.

"Who is the Nome King?" DG asked, mentally kicking herself for having to. "They didn't think I should know any ancient history or they forgot that I don't know any ancient history."

"King Roquat of the gnomes attacked the O.Z. a few times, but the Great Gale and Ozma the Great always stopped him. Eventually he stopped trying and disappeared in a natural disaster that hit the Kingdom of Ev." Cain didn't take his eyes off Betsy.

"That he caused it is a minor detail," the Shaman added.

"We are not having anything to do with a plan that brings her any closer to the Nome King." Cain's eyes glittered with ice. "Release us or sell us back."

"Wyatt," DG started until he turned his stare on her.

"The fate of the world isn't at stake here, just some treasure. You are not going on a suicide run for that." Cain's scowl matched his glare.

Betsy's fists dropped to her lap as she closed her eyes. Sprite crept up to her side and rubbed her arm. "Trust, Captain. Tell them truth."

She opened her brown eyes to look at the Viewer. "You're asking for too much."

"Harder now, yes. Necessary, yes. The Captain does not avoid necessary because it is hard."

Betsy sighed as she looked at Cain and DG. Her brown eyes swung back to the table top. "The treasure I seek is my daughter, Treasure Granite, and her father, Malachite."

"The initials on your tattoo," DG said.

"Our wedding bands."

"You married the Steward's son?" DG's eyes widened.

"Bornite doesn't know about that. He raised holy hell when Mal made Treasure his heir. We didn't think it was a good time to break the news that the pirate who kidnapped him once was now his bride."

"You kidnapped him?" Cain raised his scarred eyebrow.

"I didn't know who he was! Then I didn't believe him when he told me. So by the time the ransom was finally on the table, he helped us get it. Called it his dowry," she laughed. "We married after we found out I was pregnant." The mirth died on her face. "Just after Treasure turned two, Malachite wanted to see if there was any truth to the Nome King legend. He was the first magic user in the Granite family in generations, and he could power the astrolabe. He had worked out all the details to make it an Island Navy expedition. I insisted on going along with the You and What Navy?."

"And then you were poisoned," DG added. "And Pyrite and Slate were the only ones who came back."

Betsy nodded. "My husband and child are prisoners of the Nome King. But you can't expect pirates to sign up for a rescue mission."

"So you lied." Cain's lips twitched.

"Hell, even you freaked out! I can't sail the ship alone."

"And you need magic for the astrolabe," DG said.

"I've been looking for a magic user for a year. You're the second I've found who could make it work."

"What about the first one?" Cain hitched his thumbs in his belt.

Betsy pointed to the Shaman. "I no leave my island ever, Tin Man," she said.

"But you can fix the astrolabe?" DG steeled herself for Cain's reaction.

"Sweetheart." That was so not a term of endearment when he said it that way.

"I have the knowledge you lack, daughter of Gale." The milky eyes bored into DG's. "But you don't make this decision for just yourself."

DG laid a hand on her stomach. "What kind of mother would I be if I don't help another?" Only the skin twitching over Cain's jaw broke his stoic fašade. "You know it's the right thing to do. I won't leave your side, Wyatt, I promise."

She had to root her feet not to run from his coming explosion. "My job is to keep you safe. The choice is yours, Princess." He hadn't sounded so cold since before their first trip to Central City.

She flinched, but she wouldn't back down. Not when someone, especially a child, needed help. "I thought I was more than just a job to you." His eyes winced, even if the rest of his face didn't move. "But we promised to help and we're going to help."

Betsy stared at both of them. "I honestly don't understand you two at all. But I'm not turning any help down." She turned back to the Shaman. "Can you fix the astrolabe?"

The Shaman picked up both astrolabes. The pieces flew into an orbit around her purple turban. Two of the discs with flat spokes glowed faintly along with the bolt and the rule. The glowing pieces floated one by one to the glowing base in her right hand. The reassembled astrolabe's light pulsed. "None of that." She released it, and it bobbed across the table to Betsy.

The Captain passed the chain over her head and she slipped the unlit astrolabe under her closed vest. "Payment?"

The Shaman swept the air with her hand. The non-magical pieces of metal swooped to the shelves and fell into an open jar that closed itself. "You are honorable despite your profession, Betsy-me-girl. I never have to threaten you with hexes."

"Thanks, but if it's all the same, I'd prefer not to have to go on another quest."

"It's part and parcel with your current quest. Keep those three alive." The Shaman pointed to DG and Cain. "And bring your Treasure to see me before her next birthday." The old woman chuckled as Betsy frowned. "Rid your heart of that fear. I lay nothing on the child that her birth hasn't already."

Betsy nodded. "I agree to those terms."

"Now for you, daughter of Gale."

DG blinked at the Shaman. "I didn't ask for anything."

"You never ask for anything now. Told no so many times, you've accepted denial as punishment. The gods not punish you, woman-child. Denial is used to control what is feared."

She felt tears gather. "They're afraid of me?"

The Shaman winced. "Afraid of your true power, lessons in how to use it are denied. Afraid of your unorthodox ways, opportunities to show them are denied. Afraid of what you could do with true loyalty, friendships are denied. All those fears cloaked in love, in guilt, in anger."

DG stared at the floor. "So I was right."

"You made mistakes too. Your craving for acceptance and forgiveness and your fear of losing it all again kept you from fighting when you should have. But now you have a future to protect." DG looked into the Shaman's clouded eyes. "Fighting for that future is your payment. And you will find your center, if you live long enough." The Shaman turned and aimed her voice down the hallway behind her. "Socorro, bring Dani."

A black-skinned girl carried a bird cage and set it on the table in front of DG. The nesting chicken with reddish brown feathers cocked her head to look at DG. "Dani will protect you."

"It's a chicken."

"You're the brightest one in your clutch, aren't you?" Dani's fathers ruffled.

"A sarcastic, talking chicken. How is a chicken supposed to protect me?"

"Consult over." The Shaman stood. "Gods be with you." She tapped her cane as she disappeared down the dark hallway.

"How exactly are you supposed to protect me?" DG peered at the cage. "Are you some kind of fighting chicken?"

Dani's beak snapped a couple of times. "I see why no one thinks you're a princess, rude pullet. You learn to have a proper conversation and then maybe you'll find out." She tucked her head under her wing.

DG looked at Betsy, who shoved her chair back. "I need a drink."

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