There is a stretch of coast along the Eastern seaboard of the Americas where the sea is always calm and the wind always fair with no rocks to rip at a keel, and no shoals to ground upon. Where a good sailor may thread his vessel between the high overhanging cliffs and come to a sheltered harbour on the shore of a hidden island that is home to the earliest wizard settlers of those lands.
It was long a place where wizard ships put in to trade with the mer-people and the native shamans. Accordingly disguising charms had been put on the place, and passing Muggle sailors saw only black granite cliffs plunging sheer into a rolling, dangerous sea. For that reason they named the place 'Never-land' and stood off safely until they reached the havens of Boston or Cape Cod.
It would take a desperate man, and a fine sailor to brave the illusory rocks, the high cliffs, and the boiling seas to find a way safely to that harbour, and only one Muggle has ever done so.
This is the tale of how the notorious Captain Hook came to Never-Land.
I learned the importance of keeping a keen lookout aloft long before I set foot on a fo'c's'le but that is a tale for another time.
My guest expressed an interest in seeing the effect of the glamours on non-magical intruders and accompanied me up the winding stairs to the highest tower of my home.
The Black Castle (the tale of how I won it from Pluto Black is one for another time, I never thought it worth changing the name), is built on the summit of the promontory overlooking the open sea on one side and the calm lagoon of Neverland Harbour on the other. The Lookout Tower commands a view of both, and I have fully equipped it with scrying glasses, far-seeing charms and crystal balls (there is no truth in the rumour that I used lights to lure Muggle treasure ships onto the rocks – what need have I of such subterfuge when I am a wizard of no little power? But I digress.)
I sent away the lookout elf and commandeered the glass to turn it upon the seaward side. As I did so the Shaman, who, as his name implies, is a master of lightning spells, called up a sheet of white fire that lit the sky from horizon to shore and allowed us both to watch the drama as it played out.
There was a black-hulled brig, square-rigged fore and aft and all sails set as she ran before the wind. Her Captain must have been mad or desperate to pile on so much canvas in that gale and off that coast. I turned the glass in his wake and saw two vessels in full pursuit, a British warship of the sixth rate and, astonishingly, a 20 gun Bermuda sloop flying the French colours. It was a strange alliance for these waters, yet they came on together, more intent on their quarry than each other.
"Should I burn them?" the shaman asked his drum-hand ready to call up his enchantment.
I shook my head. "If they hold their course the rocks will take them," I said, confident of our natural protection.
But it seemed that the Captain of their quarry also knew this coast, and its dangers. As the brig drew level with the Castle she suddenly dropped all sail as quickly as though by magic. I wondered for a moment whether the Captain was a wizard, but realised an instant later that he must have ordered the rigging cut – or else had previously set charges to blow it away.
She still came on, of course, driven by the sea swell and her own momentum, but at less than half her former speed.
I focussed the glass down, using magic to scan the ship and seek out the Captain who dared use such tactics. The decks were a tangle of canvas and rope, with a handful of sailors heaving it free of the guns. They were a motley crew, clad in rags and the remnants of the uniforms of half a dozen navies. Knowing what they were running from I scarcely needed the confirmation of the bloody flag with its image of a skull and crossed swords flying from her denuded masthead to confirm my guess.
"Pirates," said my companion.
I nodded. "Pirates indeed. And their Captain is a most piratical fellow." The glass had found him now, both hands gripping the wheel and leaning on it hard to turn her broadside to the rapidly gaining pursuit. It was heavy work, and at any moment the sea might claim him, but he was smiling, gripped by the exhilaration of the moment, and utterly confident. His black hair was as curled as a periwig, though it must have been natural, the way the corkscrew ringlets were caught by the wind. His lips, beneath the curled moustache, were curved in a smile of pure devilment, as though he were enjoying the chase, and his hands on the wheel were tanned, calloused, and rock steady. I watched, fascinated, to see what he would do.
The pirate vessel was broadside on to the navy ships now, her guns primed and aimed. But she was also dangerously close to the rocks, almost under the cliffs themselves. If she fired she risked being driven to her own doom.
And then the Captain locked the wheel, raised his hand, and bellowed the order to fire.
The guns boomed, but no shot ripped into the enemy. The flame blossomed from her port side, and high, sending the iron balls crashing into the landward cliffs.
Apart from the keening of the wind around the tower, no sound of the conflict had reached us. But now there came an ominous creaking, as the earth itself joined the battle. Undermined by the sea, and weakened further by the shock of the canon's impact, the cliff shuddered, and, with a deafening roar, tons of rock broke away and tumbled into the crashing waves.
The prow of the French ship was smashed to matchwood. The English commander, with a slower, heavier vessel, was further from the impact and rode out the swell, though he showed no sign of providing assistance to his former companion, giving the commands rather to turn away from the danger. The French must sink or swim.
It was an audacious piece of seamanship. Gylidi recognised it too and grinned at me as I drew my wand. "You think the pirate deserves reward?" he asked.
"A man who makes his own luck deserves safe-haven, at least for a while. Give me light."
The shaman's fingers played over the drumskin, conjouring up sky-fire that painted a silver pathway across the waters, as though reflected from the invisible moon. The witch-light washed up the sides of the brig, dancing up the denuded masts like the phenomenon that sailors call Saint Elmo's Fire. I used my own wand to direct wind and wave and current to bring the pirate ship on course for Neverland.
Weather magic is my speciality; the talent was more than half the reason why I sought my fortune at sea. I saw the Captain's astonished expression as the enchantments took hold, and then surprise gave way, not, as usual, to Muggle fear, but to determination. He seized the wheel again, freeing the lock to allow the ship to turn as I and the wind willed, steering her further under the cliff and into what, to his Muggle sailor's eyes, must have seemed certain death.
The crew of the British naval vessel were not so brave, or so foolhardy. As the witchlight grew there were screams from her decks. The Captain must have whipped all hands to the task of trimming and turning her away from the rocks and the wreck of her erstwhile companion. I sent a squall after them for luck and to reinforce the message that this shore was not a safe one.
When I turned my attention back to the pirate ship there was no sign of her. I lowered my wand and crossed the room, turning my glass onto the inner harbour.
Here the sea was mill-pond quiet, a mirror for the wooded cliffs, the palm trees leaning out over the sandy shore, and the castle itself on its high promontory.
The blue glow that had lit her way through the glamour of the cliffs had died and the pirate ship, battered by battle and storm, was a black blot on that landscape. The Captain, not knowing these waters, had dropped anchor in the middle of the bay. For an instant I doubted the wisdom of our actions in providing rescue. Her hull was black, and her paintwork red. Picked out around her prow, somewhat crudely for, like all pirate ships, she had been launched with another name and under another flag, was the inscription Jolly Roger. Her gunports were still open, prepared for any landward threat, and the Captain had set his men to clearing the decks of tangled canvas and tackle. I watched through the glass as he strode to the high poop deck, moving like a cat – a big, predatory jungle cat – bounding up the ladder in three long strides, aided by a hand on the rope, before stopping at the highest point and lifting his own spyglass to his eye to rake the shore.
I knew already from what I had seen of the battle that he was quick and canny, and was not surprised when his glass found the sunglint off my own and fixed upon the tower of the Black Castle. He raised his free hand and barked an order. At once two of his men uncovered the forward gun and turned it onto the Castle. I smiled. It was a futile threat, of course, since my home is protected by magic as well as the thickness of its stone walls, but I admired the man's foresight and command.
It was a small gun, with a calibre of barely three inches, and no real threat, but I had seen how accurately he could fire while under way and did not relish the thought of a shot through my window, even if averted by magic. I set down the glass and swung on my coat.
I nodded to my companion. "Shall we see what sort of fish we have hooked this day?" I asked.
His inscrutable gaze met mine. "Wizard business," he said. "Tell him our Laws. If he wishes to deal with my people, in peace or war, let him speak with our Chief."
His attitude did not surprise me. The native peoples care little for the doings of white men, be they wizard or muggle. I watched him fold his deerskin cloak around himself, and pass from my sight in the silent way of his people.
I picked up the cane that concealed my wand and walked down the castle stairs, out through the caverns below the cliff and onto the wharf where my trading clipper and the ferry boats are moored. From that vantage point I had a far better view of the pirate ship and her crew and captain.
She was still at anchor. The mess of canvas and rope had been cleared from her decks and there were seamen aloft engaged in re-rigging the vessel for departure, with others ranged along the rail, armed and watchful. Clearly her Captain did not regard Neverland as a safe harbour and was anxious to be gone. In the calm waters of the harbour she looked a good deal larger than she had while braving the rocks outside, and I could see the scars of that battle, and many others, on her hull and superstructure. Her brass was dull, and part of her port rail had been shot away, along with the port light. The bright bare wood protruded from the blood-red paintwork like a bone from shattered flesh. Her hull was black pitch, scarred by shot and encrusted with barnacles. She had clearly been at sea a long time, and was in need of a full overhaul and careening.
I was unsurprised. There are few safe havens in these waters where a pirate may take time to service his vessel. That, at least, gave me a bargaining chip. I hailed him from the shore, using words and a gesture that marked me as a member of the pirate brotherhood (and no, I will not reveal it, even now), and he indicated that he would drop a boat to ferry me aboard.
His men were swift and efficient, even after such a hard battle, and I was soon hauled aboard and escorted to the foredeck where he waited, one hand on the wheel, the other ready on the hilt of his cutlass.
He was a handsome man, but the fight had used him hard. His once-fine coat was water and gunpowder-stained, and some stray shot, or falling timber had slashed a cut across his upper arm. The blood which oozed from the wound and stained his fine linen shirt was a thick, dark yellow, the colour of urine.
There was, I knew, only one man who sailed the seas who had blood of that peculiar colour, and his name was notorious (though not as notorious as he would become under another soubriquet, in years to come).
It suggested that he had Fairy blood, of course. Oh, not like your House Elves, or Christmas fairies, but the Old Ones who walked freely in England in Elizabeth's day. There are tales enough about young men seduced by the Faerie Queen to dance attendance at her court for seven years, or seven times seven, but fewer of the fate of young maids seduced by the wiles of the Dukes of Faerie – or the fate of their half-blood get. However he had come to Neverland he had, in one sense, come home.