"What do you want?" Captain Morgan asked Shanku gruffly.
"Ever had a mate?" Shanku asked quietly as she tucked her hands behind her back and ducked her head. Her wings were drawn a bit around her nervously.
"That is none of your business," he said sternly.
"No harm in asking," Shanku said with a small smile.
Captain Morgan turned away from her and continued to write his letter.
Shanku stood there for a moment, watching him. An ear flicked down slowly. "What's wrong with Dawson and Scarlet?" she finally exclaimed, hand turned up in front of her.
"Is that why you're here?" the captain asked coldly.
"It doesn't make sense," Shanku said weakly.
"Go to bed. These are matters beyond your years," he replied.
"But— " Shanku began to protest.
"Newbury will explain. Now go," the captain said sharply. He dipped his pen into his inkwell.
"We're not so bad, y'know," Shanku said sadly over her shoulder as she turned to leave.
Rats. Shanku sat on a barrel outside his cabin and crossed her arms and legs. She sat there quietly for a few moments. He hadn't even heard her out! Just sent her own away. With a sigh, Shanku got up and made her way up to the crow's nest where she often spent her voyages with Dawson.
"I told you," Doctor Newbury sighed the following morning after he was confronted by Shanku.
"Did you do it?" Shanku huffed. She was crouching on a barrel. Her head was low, her wings drawn around her, and all her feathers were fluffed.
"No, I didn't," Doctor Newbury said patiently and tucked his arms behind his back. "Some strange Kurach with striped wings visited Captain Morgan a few nights ago. She often comes aboard when we come to Port Ila'tyaq."
"Striped wings?" Shanku asked and straightened up a bit, one ear pricked forward and one laid back. She sat up and crossed her legs. "You sure it wasn't spotted?"
"I'm sure. I haven't seen her before either."
"Strange," Shanku stood and stretched. "Well, I'm off. Dawson and I are going ashore tonight."
"Enjoy it," Doctor Newbury smiled warmly. "We leave in two days."
Two days? Shanku startled as she began to walk off. I'd better work quick! She broke into a run. "Dawson!"
"Hm?" Dawson looked behind to find Shanku running up to him.
"Do you know we shove off in two days?" Shanku asked nervously, dancing in place.
"Do you think I'd be halling barrels if I didn't know?" Dawson snapped.
"Point," Shanku said thoughtfully and tapped her chin. She took notice of the barrel resting on his shoulder that he had been hauling aboard. "Are we still going fishing tonight?"
"I'll see," Dawson said quietly and turned away. "Run along."
"I'll be back 'round sunset..." Shanku said sadly and flew off the deck.
Shanku spent the day asking around the town about the striped Kurach. She asked the stall vendors, the little gnomes, the chest maker, the toy maker, the butcher, the baker, and even the candlestick maker. Many had seen the striped Kurach, but none knew anything about her. She was simply the one who sold large birds on occasion. Shanku returned to the ship grumpily. She wouldn't have time to scour the island for a flock of great birds!
The sun began to set and the stars came out. Shanku was sitting in her usual manner.
"On your broody barrel again?" Dawson asked sourly.
"Take a seat, I got a crabby crate reserved for ya," Shanku huffed.
Dawson sat down on a box nearby. He propped his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands. They brooded together in silence.
"You ready to go yet?" Shanku asked at length.
"Sure," Dawson said flatly.
The two left the ship. Shanku lead him a ways down the beach and into the jungle.
"Where are we going again?" Dawson asked uneasily as various night creatures called and scurried around them.
"It's a surprise," Shanku said.
"What are you up to?" Dawson asked suspiciously.
"Nothing," Shanku said coyly and grined at him. "Just extending an invitiation."
"About what?" Dawson asked.
"Midsummer"! Shanku said excitedly and gestured up ahead to a gathering of huts and many lights dancing on the other side.
"Do you just try to get into trouble?" Dawson exclaimed as he recognized it as the Kurach village that Scarlet was from.
"Nope, comes naturally!" Shanku laughed and marched to the village.
"How has Captain not killed you yet?" Dawson groaned and slapped a hand to his forehead. Shanku gave him a weak smile with drooped ears.
"Brood later. Fun now!" Shanku said. She grabbed his hand and pulled him to the village center.
There were many torches standing in the sand and braced by stones at the base. But their pale light was nothing compared to the display on the beach. There were many singers, swimmers, flower vendors, dancers, and many culinary treats being passed around. The dancers especially caught Shanku's attention. She was familiar with those in skirts, but the fire dancers were new. Some twirled batons, but most danced with a staff that was lit on both ends. They cut brilliant patterns of circles and ribbons through the night air.
"Glad you could join us," Scarlet said from behind Shanku.
"Preeeetty!" Shanku said slowly, mesmorized by the lights.
"Been a while, Dawson," Scarlet said quietly.
"Long story..." Dawson sighed.
Kisona waved to Shanku and she went to sit by him and enjoy the party. None noticed the couple walking off down the beach.
"What do you think?" Kisona asked as a dancer with batons twirled them his torso and legs with ease.
"Awesome!" Shanku said excitedly.
A dam approached them and held out a platter of kelp and fish. Kisona accepted some and thanked her, and gave one to Shanku. She looked at it suspiciously and wrinkled her nose.
"Try it, it's very sweet," Kisona urged.
Shanku took a tentative bite and was pleasantly surprised.
"Honey is the key," Kisona nodded and ate his whole. "Keeps the kelp wrapped firmly around the fish."
Shanku nodded and watched as a trio of jugglers took the center and began an elaborate act of tossing and catching flaming sticks between them.
"Have you been out to sea tonight?" Kisona asked.
"Not yet," Shanku shook her head.
"After these three, go with Tesla out into the water. There are some special creatures that only come out this time of the year," Kisona nodded.
The Kurach in question was to the other side of Kisona and he waved to Shanku. She smiled and then turned back to the show. When the jugglers had finished, she dutifully followed Tesla out into the water. This time, Shanku was instructed on how to perform the spell to keep her feathers dry before she was allowed to swim.
"So that's where you've been," Shalu said quietly.
"Mmhmm," Dawson nodded. He leaned back and propped up on his arms to look at the stars, a knee half drawn to his chest.
"There is work here on other ships," Shalu offered. "Unless you have family in L'aernth."
"Nah, none that want me," Dawson grumbled and looked down. "Morgan gave me more of chance than they ever did."
"Even more than me?" Shalu asked sadly.
The both sat in silence, watching the small waves gently lapping against the shore.
"What kind of work?" Dawson asked at length.
Out in the water, Shanku and Tesla were passing by. She noticed Dawson and Shalu on the beach, lost in conversation.
"I hope I never grow up," she commented.
"Why?" Tesla asked.
"My life is problematic enough without courting woes!" Shanku said exasperatedly, her ears laid back.
"It's worth it," Tesla chuckled.
"If you say so, Tesla," Shanku shook her head and watched Dawson and Shalu.
"Those two will be happier than any of us before long, perhaps even more than me and my fellow. Just you wait," Tesla said matter-of-factly. He began to swim away. "Come! I have something to show you."
Tesla lead her a ways down the shore until they arrived at a seaside cave. He swam inside a little ways and walked up onto the sand inside.
"Where are we?" Shanku asked nervously.
"One of my favorite places," Tesla said. "Look."
The water flowed deep into the cave. There was an opening a little ways in through the ceiling where she could see the moon, and a stream of water flowed down in a small waterfall. But all on the cave walls were great pieces of shelf fungus that glowed with a cold, blue light. And on top of them crawled many luminescent caterpillars.
"Too bad you leave tomorrow. I can't give a proper tour," Tesla said sadly as he petted one of the caterpillars.
"But the ship does return. Doesn't it?" Shanku asked as she sat down in the sand. Even the little fish with their long, ribbon tails glowed in this cave.
"True. But it won't return until several months from now, and by then they will all have faded. Would you even remember this place next year?" Tesla asked as the caterpillar crawled up his arm.
"Oh, yes!" Shanku exclaimed as a moth emerged from one of the many barnacle-like cocoons built on the shelf fungus.
"I could take a raincheck," Tesla nodded and returned the caterpillar to the mushrooms. "Don't forget!"
I don't think I could, Shanku thought wistfully as she watched a few of the glowing moths flutter around each other.
"C'mon, Kisona and Shalu will scalp me if I keep you from a good night's sleep," Tesla said as he stood in the mouth of the sea cave. "Tomorrow's the big day, eh?"
"Nah. Day after, sadly," Shanku replied. "I haven't been with my kind since spring."
"You don't look like an Islander," Tesla said curiously as he climbed into the air. "Or even a Bhadarukian."
"My kind, not my people," Shanku explained. "I'm a Feral Sylvan from L'aernth."
"That explains a lot," Tesla nodded as they glided back to the village. As late as it was when it returned, Dawson and Shanku were persuaded to spend the night with the Islanders.
The following morning, Dawson stopped Shanku on their way back to the Meriweather.
"Here, kid," Dawson said simply and handed a wax-sealed letter to Shanku.
"What's this?" Shanku asked curiously as she took it. Dawson was quiet and looked away. "Dawson?" Shanku asked hesitantly, her ears drooping with worry. Dawson knelt down to her level and placed his hands gently on her arms.
"It's been fun, Shanku. You were one of my best shipmates," he began slowly.
"You're leaving, aren't you?" Shanku asked sadly.
Dawson nodded and stood. He looked out over the ocean. "Sea's m' life, but only because I was of no use to father in the shop. What good is the son of a cobbler who ruins shoes? Scarlet has given me a chance to have a family again and be the father I didn't have."
"Is she gonna—" Shanku started.
"Lay an egg? Yes," Dawson nodded quickly.
Shanku made a very confused face and stared out over the sea. Zihna said she hadn't laid an egg with Hinto, so what was the difference?
"Give my letter to Captain Morgan, alright?" Dawson asked quickly. He could tell from how Shanku was acting that she was probably about to ask a question that would be very embarrassing to him.
"Gonna miss ya, Dawson," Shanku said and gave him a hug.
"You too, Ravenwing," Dawson replied and hugged her in return.
"No matter how angry it makes ya, don't send it away like your father and my clan did us, got it?" Shanku laughed and brandished a finger at him.
"Got it!" Dawson chuckled.
Back aboard the Meriweather, Shanku nervously gave the captain Dawson's letter.
"What is this?" Captain Morgan asked her.
"Um..." Shanku fidgeted nervously, her wings drawn tight around her, and didn't reply.
The captain read it silently, a look of mild concern coming over him. He lowered the letter and looked to Shanku. "Thinky ou can handle the crow's nest?"
"Yep!" Shanku chirped cheerily.
"Then get up there," the captain said curtly as he turned his back to her. "You're a part of the crew. Do not disappoint me."
"Yes, sir!" Shanku said proudly as she saluted him. She was so excited she was unaware of just how sad he was as he filed the letter in the chest that held his documents.
Dawson had found his own way to solve hsi problem with Shalu, the Scarlet Dancer. As he began a new chapter in his life, so did his little friend. She couldn't help but wonder what new adventures awaited her on the high seas.
That was how we lost Dawson and I came to be the look-out. Captain was not disappointed. Dawson was right, a Kurach's vision is superior to a man's. Many pirates never even had a chance to see our sails!
Captain finally got used to me and we were a merry crew for the next few years, with Doctor Newbury ever seeking to expand my education and his research.
Then came that one fateful day I shall never forget...
~ Shanku Ravenwing