The Sigh of the Wind and the Foam on the Sea
My stomach must have woken before my head, for I came round coughing up a bitter yellow bile. I heaved myself up to my knees to avoid choking and stayed motionless for a while as I waited for my guts to settle; but not entirely motionless, for the floor was swaying quite disconcertingly. I gripped the wooden floorboards with my fingertips to steady myself and forced my head up to look around.
The room was dim and dingy, but as my eyes adjusted to the low light I could see that it was richly, if tastelessly, furnished. Drapes and tapestries hung from the walls in a bright cacophany of patterns and colours and designs, while a jumble of heavy furniture adorned every spare space, crafted in a great assortment of alarming shapes and curves the likes of which I had never before seen. Table legs of some dark wood were carved as a great pile of men and women performing with enthusiasm the kinds of acts that even Carmela the Spaniard would have refused, some devilish beast with a nose like a slow worm and teeth like a bulls horns fashioned from a greenish stone marched across the floor nearby, and upon the walls a set of fearsome wooden faces grinned and scowled and snarled at me. But most perturbingly of all, each of these things swayed and bucked and shifted in front of me, and I swayed and bucked and shifted with them. I staggered unsteadily to my feet, fell forwards into the nearest curtained wall, and groped at the fabric in front of me to clear it out the way of the light shining through from behind. I had enough time to glance through the grubby porthole and confirm that I was indeed at sea before I began to throw up again.
I finally managed to calm my heaving innards (or perhaps there was just nothing left for them to reject) by sitting with my knees up against my chest and my back against a cushioned bench I had managed to find in amongst the room’s scattered contents. The knife I always carried at my thigh had been removed from me, but my clothes seemed all intact and my shell was still in the bottom of my pocket. My head pounded like some angry bird was sat inside trying to peck it’s way out, but apart from that and the sickness I appeared to be unharmed, and there were no restraints upon me, although the door to the chamber that held me was locked. I could hear the shouts of men above and below me, but I couldn’t make out words or any familiar voices and I assumed I’d been left entirely alone until I spotted the movement of what I’d assumed to be a stuffed parrot that was perched near the door.
It was a beautiful creature, with bold sky-blue feathers and lush green feathers and a belly as yellow as a rape field, and it seemed to be eyeing me suspiciously with its beady bird gaze. It shifted up and down its perch, which looked to be some kind of hatstand fashioned from a tree branch, and occasionally it fluttered its wings and hopped or flapped on to something else nearby. It was restless and frustrated and its constant, hurried movements held me mesmerised for a while. I wondered that I hadn’t noticed it before, for it seemed so full of life now, but perhaps it had been sleeping or merely watching to see if I posed a threat.
My head was still throbbing, but in the absence of anything else to distract me from the pain and the queasiness of sea travel that wouldn’t require some thought and concentration, such as trying to work out what in the world was going on, I decided to see if I couldn’t get closer and perhaps ease the creature’s discomfort a little. Quite how I might do this I hadn’t honestly considered. My knowledge of parrots was limited to a story my father had once told of one his bosun had taught to speak and that had afterwards kept up a constant stream of squawked obscenities until the day the bosun ran afoul of another man’s sword in a bar brawl after which it had remained entirely silent. However, I was struck by a sudden determination to do something that might in anyway alleviate the feeling of helplessness resulting from my present predicament that I was attempting to ignore, and the parrot provided a useful focus for my efforts. So, leaning heavily on whatever furnishing came to hand I slowly navigated my way through the room towards the door, trying not to let the heeling of the ship cause me to make any sudden movements.
“Pretty parrot,” I held out my hand slowly and the words formed in my mouth unintentionally as if from some kind of reflex I didn’t know I had. “Pretty parrot. Who’s a good boy then?” The parrot turned its head to regard me, cocked on one side, it’s eyes surprisingly piercing. It had something in its beak, and as I drew slowly closer I realised that it was a length of cord that I had assumed was tied between its leg and the perch. But in fact the cord end ran from its mouth to somewhere at the top of the doorframe, then back down again until I lost sight of it.
“What is that?” I muttered to myself and I tried to follow the cord with my eyes, but without success. I reached my hand out further as I pulled myself up close enough to investigate and I fingered the end of the cord that trailed down to the ground. The parrot shifted its feet on the perch, but its head didn’t move as it watched me. “Pretty parrot,” I said to it, trying my best to sound reassuring. The cord was fastened tightly to something near the floor. I ran my hand up it slowly, calmly, and when I got high enough I reached out a finger to try and scratch the parrot’s golden belly.
A sudden clamour of pounding footsteps arose outside the door and several things happened all at once. The door slammed open with an almighty crashing shudder and I had to duck behind a nearby stool as a hail of heavy overhanging ornaments came raining down from above. The parrot left its perch with a squeal and a flurry of colourful feathers and what I was later certain was a curse word that some old master had taught it. And into the room with a definitive swagger stepped a massive, hairy, heavy built gentleman bedecked in a fancy feathered hat and more jewellery than one would find on any of the girls from my home, or even their actor friends. He opened his mouth in a toothy leer, cracked his knuckles together and called out behind him in a deep rumble, “well lads, ready yerselves. Looks like our little empress’s woken up at last.”
Next installment on Monday 30th August.