Gil probably looked and sounded foolish more than he usually did, only this time it was because he was talking to the sea. He didn’t care.
It was late and no one was looking for him. Many nights had already passed that he spent alone, outside on the docks. When he first found himself out there he had been a bumbling mess. Every drifting strand of seaweed was one of Uma’s aqua blue braids. Every shimmery reflection of the moon was the glimmer of Uma’s necklace. He had been so sure Uma would return to them at least, Queen of Auradon or not. Gil didn’t care if she had failed just so long as she came home.
Over the sound of water gently lapping at the shore, he could faintly make out the distant noise of his crew biding their time on Uma’s stranded ship the Lost Revenge. The buzz was familiar and comforting to the boy; it gave him the reassurance that it couldn’t hurt to try. Which was why he was here, on the docks, alone, every night since the king’s disastrous cotillion.
“So it’s been awhile since you got through the barrier and spelled King Ben,” he began inelegantly. The fact that her crew hadn’t heard anything from her since then went unspoken by Gil. “But you already, um, knew that.”
He wrung his hands nervously as he stared down into the murky waters. Not off to a great start, he plowed on nonetheless.
“Your mom is still really mad that you aren’t on the Isle anymore. She’s kind of,” he hesitated before the words slipped out in a single breath against his will, “thelaughingstockoftheIsle.”
He braced himself for a blow, assuming that such a remark to his Captain would result in physical punishment. It never came.
He breathed a quiet sigh of relief before he continued on happily.
“The crew hasn’t been back to the Chip Shop since. Harry still has the crew working on the ship, keeping it sea worthy for you,” he mentioned pleasantly until he winced at his obvious blunder. “Well, I mean, it’s still ship wrecked but…it’s livable I guess? Harry is still crashing there every night and his family haven’t been by yet so…” he trailed off.
“I’m worried about Harry,” he admitted quietly. “I think he’s getting worse. He’s picking fights with everyone, even the crew. I hear them sometimes, talking about him behind his back like they aren’t afraid of what he could do to them if he knew. Don’t worry, though,” he rushed out, “I reminded them who’s in charge. They won’t bother him anymore.” He grinned proudly at that, brandishing his meaty fists in a boxer’s pose.
His grin slowly faded the longer he stared out into the open sea, the inky backdrop to an even darker sky. He dropped his muscular arms to his sides.
“All Harry does now is rant about all those traitors who were invited to “Boreadon”. He doesn’t even steal from the shops anymore so I’ve been doing it for him.” He flashed a quick grin, pleased once again that he could say how helpful he was able to be lately. He liked being useful for a change. It was a big step up from being his usual oafishness that often landed him on the steps outside the Chip Shop. How he longed more than ever the praise from his Captain instead of her dismissal.
Still, his grin once again faded. Despite all he had spoken to the sea, the sea had yet to speak back.
“We need you Uma. We hope you haven’t forgotten about us and that you’re okay.”
He shuffled his boots awkwardly. Usually at this point in the evening he would leave. The pleasant waves and buzz of activity from the shipyard were no longer comforting. If anything the sounds were distracting. There was only one thing he wanted to listen to and that was the cool and confident voice of his captain telling him not to worry so much, that she had a plan.
So he waited out there on the rickety dock, fidgeting in the same solitary spot as the sea air brought in colder tides. Refusing to turn away from a little cold air, he strained to hear something. Anything.
There was nothing.
Gil began to accept that this night was just like the last, and the one before that. Wherever, whatever, Uma was doing, she wasn’t ready to let him in on it yet. Disheartened by the thought, Gil finally decided to call it a night and head back to the Lost Revenge. Turning away from the sea, he shook his head. The red in his cheek now wasn’t just from the cold, but also embarrassment, perhaps even shame. Yet again he was returning to Harry empty handed; without the one thing the young pirate needed most. Maybe he was just wasting precious time talking to sea when he could be at Harry’s side, keeping him from completely going off the deep end. Uma would be so disappointed in him, he thought to himself. He didn’t deserve to be a part of their crew, another mean voice in his head told him.
He reached the end of the dock when he heard it; glass clinking against a bunch of rocks. Curious, Gil peered over the dock’s edge. There, he spotted a tall, slim glass bottle washed up against the rocky shore. He almost walked away, disregarding it as nothing at all until he realized the bottle wasn’t empty as he had first assumed. Inside was a rolled up paper scroll.
Delighted by the development, Gil agilely leapt down from the wood planks and landed heavily onto the slippery pebbles below. Any pirate worth his salt recognizes a message in a bottle when they saw one.
The now uncorked bottle at his feet, he read the slightly damp parchment. He may not have understood a whole lot of what the message was about what he did garner from it that he was looking at instructions, orders really. His eyes lit up when he saw the signature at the bottom.
He snatched the bottle from the shore and ran for the ship, clutching the letter to his broad chest. “Harry is not going to believe this!” he exclaimed, his voice carrying out to the churning sea.
Harry stared on at his restless crew with disdain. Leaning, slumping against to be honest, the Lost Revenge’s railing was the only thing holding him up. The rum bottle he had swiped from his father’s stash now empty lay shattered on the dock by his boots in a hundred pieces. The drink had kept him warm against the cold, but his rising temper was quickly catching up. Here he was simply trying to get out of his chaotic head for a little teensy while and his crew was laughing riotously and just having a grand ‘ol time without Uma to keep them in line. The frivolous sight drove him mad.
He pushed off the railing and staggered towards the raucous young villains. Using his gleaming hook to catch the collar on the nearest kid, he held them immobile.
“Didn’ I tell ye wharf rats to pull that gangway from the water- whattimeisit-” he muttered the last part to himself and pulled his faux silver time piece from his jacket pocket and squinted at the watches face- “nearly four hours ago?”
It was almost impossible for anyone who wasn’t part of the crew to understand Harry’s slurred speech made only a thousand times less understandable by his strong lilting accent. The crew went silent, freezing where they stood. In the weeks following the Captain’s play at the king they had learned just how easily the first mate could lose his cool. None of them were willing to tell him that he had actually ordered them to return the gangway Mal had knocked into the water days ago. While Harry had never been great at telling time, he seemed to be losing more and more of it than ever before.
“We just don’t have enough people, Captain,” someone piped up, much to the horror of the others.
The poor sap on Harry’s hook scrambled away as soon as Harry released him. Harry singled out the kid to speak up with those pale blue eyes of his. The raven haired pirate stepped in front of the unfortunate soul who trembled before him.
“What did ya call me?” Harry ground out slowly.
The kid’s legs almost gave out right then and he looked to the other crew members for help. “Well, I mean, uh,” he mumbled, “since Uma is gone doesn’t that mean you’re, um, the Captain?”
He shrank in on himself as Harry towered over him shaking with rage. For a short moment, Harry closed his eyes to collect himself and when he opened them again he was deadly still. It did not go unnoticed how his hand was resting on the hilt of his sword.
He tilted his head back so he was looking down his nose at the young villain. The kid squeaked when Harry lifted his hook in one swift movement. The metal caught the light of their lanterns the way he had practiced in order to complement the crazed gleam of his eye, striking instant terror in the crew who had recently come to fear it.
“If anyone here truly believes that Uma has abandoned us for bluer harbors, they can leave,” he growled.
The crew looked to each other in confusion, unmoving.
Harry rotated in a circle, taking in the unsure villain kids clearly too scared to make the wrong move. The sorry sight set his teeth on edge. He was making a bloody ultimatum and all they could do was stare dumbly at one another! For weeks he had spent in an anguished mess while his so called crew already picked up the pieces and moved on. Moved on from their Captain’s failure to free them. Didn’t they still wonder where she was? When she was coming back? Because she was coming back; of that Harry was certain. She wouldn’t abandon us, he thought to himself numbly.
Pivoting on the spot, he threw his hand and hook out and screamed at the group, “GET OFF THIS SHIP. NONE O’ YA ARE WELCOME HERE ANYMORE.”
That jolted some life into the villain kids. They flowed around Harry as they all but ran for the gangway off the ship, ducking and diving to avoid the swing of his hook. The wood planks groaned under the strain of the sudden foot traffic.
“SHE IS COMING BACK, MARK ME WORDS,” Harry shouted over the sound of their departure. She didn’t just leave us behind.
Meanwhile, Gil fought against the current of banished crew members as he made his way onto the ship. “What’s going on guys? Where you going?” he tried to ask them.
They all avoided his eye and shouldered past him in the middle of the gangway.
“Gonzo? Bonny?” Gil spotted the two towards the back of the group.
Bonny just shook her head sadly at him and walked around him. Gonzo stopped and scowled at Gil. “Harry has completely lost it. He kicked us out of the crew. You’re on your own, Gil.”
With that he too walked away, leaving Gil to stare after them in confusion. He opened his mouth to call after them, only he had no clue what to say to bring them back. Suddenly remembering the glass bottle and the letter, he blinked. Crossing the gangway he saw Harry duck into the Captain’s quarters and he rushed to follow him.
The rum soaked pirate flung himself into Uma’s chair behind her wobbly desk. He had been avoiding these dark and cold quarters for weeks, too afraid his new Captain status might stick. For a split second all was quiet save for the comforting creaking of the ship. His solace was short lived when Gil came barging into the room. The first mate barely spared him a glance, fully prepared to send the bumbling fool away.
“What do ye want, Gil?” he sighed heavily.
Gil didn’t even hesitate. He walked right up to the desk separating them and thrust out the empty bottle, holding it in front of Harry’s face, grinning from ear to ear.
Harry eyed the bottle, unimpressed. His gaze flickered up to meet Gil’s eager eyes. “Wha’ am I supposed to be looking at?”
The sandy haired boy blinked owlishly at him and then the empty bottle. “Oh!” He dropped the bottle with a sharp clank onto the desk letting it roll towards Harry as he reached into his jacket for the letter. Harry caught the rolling bottle with his hand and righted it when the other boy spread out a scroll of rolled up parchment on the desk. He raised a brow at him giving the grinning boy a droll look. Gil nodded his head enthusiastically at the parchment. Harry’s blurry gaze flickered down to read the ink stained paper reluctantly. So Gil had found a message in a bottle. Good job Gil.
His reaction was instantaneous. As soon as Harry spotted Uma’s signature he jolted up in his chair, eyes going impossibly wide. He ripped the parchment out of Gil’s gloved grip and read the letter over once, twice, three times just to be sure. Uma’s words sobered him up, cleared his skin, and restored two years of his life. Gil watched on in bemusement and could have sworn he saw actual tears well up in the first mate’s eyes.
“Gil! Sink me! We got work to do!”