It’s Saturday! Today we have one half of Nerd Cactus, one of Shakespeare’s biggest fans, C! Well, let’s see what she has for us today!
C’s Prompt: Whose idea was it to steal the pirate ship in the first place?
Note: This story takes place in a world where history and Shakespeare collide. Strictly speaking, it’s the same world as Nerd Cactus’ novel, Killing Mercutio, but that novel has absolutely no fantasy elements. This is technically fan-fiction, then, for my own darn novel. (There are no spoilers for the novel itself.)
“I can’t believe you agreed to take him back.”
The man – he had decided on his adult aspect today – leaned against the prow of the ship, looking miserable, as if every spray of salty air against his face was the ocean’s way of spitting at him. Knowing his relationship with the Sea Kingdom, it probably was; the fairy had an unfortunate tendency of leaving pitchfork-wielding mobs in his wake. In recent years, it had become particularly acute, like he understood it was the job of his once-mortal companion to soothe the angry brows of the world and took joy in the chaos that inevitably ensued.
Tybalt Capulet schooled his face to calm. Puck was worse than Romeo ever could be. “Remind me again: whose idea was it to steal the pirate ship in the first place?”
Puck – for that was the only name by which Tybalt ever called him – grinned, his entire face twisting in mischief that would have set nuns to gripping rosaries – and chests – tight. Tybalt kept his expression bland, fighting the exasperation banging against the bars of his mental prison with ferocious abandon. He had to be the calm one, the steady one; he could no longer afford to be at the whim of his own emotions, pulled hither and thither across the landscape of his consciousness.
Not the least because it was what had gotten him killed in the first place.
“Ah, my red-blooded friend, my pseudo-mortal comrade… it is not stealing when it’s pirates. It’s commandeering. They would have done the same to us if the tables were turned.” Puck’s features – and Tybalt was reasonably certain he knew the origin of the term ‘impish’ right down to its progenitor – shifted as he spoke, abandoning the illusion of humanity for their true form, the least disconcerting part of which was the presence of horns atop his unruly mass of hair. It had been years since the courts pulled him from the path of souls and restored him to life, but some part of Tybalt still quailed at the sight of a fairy’s wildness.
He did not enjoy feeling like prey; not when he’d been the best warrior in Verona, if one did not count Benvolio. And Tybalt did not like to count him; the man had probably been part fairy himself.
“It was not the mission your King sent us on, Puck. It was a waste of time and effort, and contributed nothing to our overall plan.”
Puck held up a finger, rocking it back and forth as if scolding a badly-behaved infant. Tybalt pursed his lips, and immediately wished he hadn’t; he was supposed to be learning measure and consideration. The sprite was entirely too good at pushing his buttons. “It was not the mission our King sent us on, once-King of Cats.” Puck’s swirling, unnatural eyes gleamed devilry, and Tybalt bit the inside of his mouth to keep from growling. How had the damned creature learned of Romeo’s insult? Its originator was dead. “You, too, serve Oberon. And, should he learn our mission failed, you will share in his ire. So… I suppose we should just make sure our mission succeeds.”
This time a growl did tear free of Tybalt’s throat. “You…” He tossed his hands in the air, then mimed choking the life out of his damnable companion. “Why did Oberon see fit to saddle me with you? What crime could I possibly have committed to be so damned? Was not death punishment enough for my foolishness?”
“Oh, Tybalt. Dear, sweet, simple Tybalt… you’re getting melodramatic again.” Puck glanced behind Tybalt and shifted back into his human form. It was handsome, with even features and curls that shimmered like gold in the sun, and yet another thing for Tybalt – who’d only ever aspired to handsome, but had at least never known what it was to be invisible – to overcome. There were days now he despaired of ever lying with a woman again. “And your distraction has arrived. Remember, we could have taken the ship to England ourselves and dispatched of our foe, but you were determined to return to Denmark.”
Tybalt frowned as he turned, facing the young man who’d joined them on the deck. “Hamlet,” he greeted, letting his hand rest on the hilt of his sword. There was something dangerous in the young denizen of Elsinore, something wild and perhaps mad, a desperation that licked at his flesh and burned just beneath the skin. For Tybalt, it was like looking into a mirror and seeing his own torment reflected back at him. He would not watch as another young man marched the path to self-destruction, Oberon be damned.
“Tybalt.” The young Dane took his hand, gripping it tight. Though the man looked a scholar, he had the handshake of a warrior. “Again, I thank you for returning me to Denmark unharmed. Your arrival has the feel of Providence.”
“Or Puck,” the fairy muttered from behind Tybalt. “It was my idea to take the ship.”
Tybalt rolled his eyes. “Please ignore my compatriot; he is an idiot. It is my pleasure to be of service to you in your quest for vengeance. I, too, had an uncle who betrayed everything I held dear.” At the mention of Lord Capulet, an explosion of long-held rage burst free of the cage Tybalt had constructed for his past, hurdling up through his spirit and into his veins. Behind him, he could sense Puck tense – even if Tybalt bemoaned their alliance, he could cobble enough wisdom together to understand that the fairy’s job was to help him heal, learn, become more than he had been – and even Hamlet took a step back.
Tybalt shook like a wet dog and grasped the hilt of his sword. It had always been of comfort to him in life, and he was not so changed that the old remedies had lost their power. A dip in fairy waters and a sip of fairy elixirs might have brought him back from death and bound him to the Court of Oberon, but he was still Tybalt Capulet. He could master this. “I apologize.”
Hamlet shook his head. “Do not. I, too, am hunted by the twin specters of grief and anger, their dogs sniping at my heels and their hunting nets tangled about my limbs. If you were able to achieve your vengeance, I can only aspire to your success. But it has occurred to me that I might be of assistance to you in some way. Surely there is some means by which I can pay you back for your efforts?”
“He talks as much as you do,” Puck whispered into Tybalt’s ear. “We’ll reach Denmark before you can agree on anything.”
“Perhaps you would like to do the talking then?”
The fairy slithered around Tybalt in a smooth motion, turning it into an outlandish bow. “That would probably be best, Master Tybalt.” Clapping his hands together, he turned his amber gaze to Prince Hamlet. “You are the heir to Elsinore, yes? And your uncle has seized the throne through nefarious means, seducing your mother and murdering your father?”
Tybalt started. How could Puck know that? Hamlet had told them only that he wanted vengeance against a treacherous uncle. “You… ass,” he muttered, a sigh of exasperated defeat leaving his shoulders hunched. Of course this had all been part of the plan. Of course stealing the pirate ship had been a means of accomplishing their mission. Of course Puck had let him think it was a diversion.
“I see the rotten state of Denmark is known to you,” Hamlet replied, ice crackling in his dark eyes. He looked a lot like Tybalt, actually, though softer and without the swarthy malignance that had stalked Tybalt all through life. The Capulet clan had all been light but for Tybalt, who recalled the humble roots of the vaunted bloodline. Once, he’d wanted to be rid of it; now he wore it as a mark of pride, an obvious difference between himself and his odious family.
He wondered if Puck knew and that was why he chose the features he did. Probably. Oberon had chosen Tybalt’s partner carefully, and there was wisdom in the King of Fairies despite his inscrutable whims.
“It is,” Puck replied, voice smooth. “And might I assume that the two fools tied up in the cargo hold are your escort to England? Carefully selected by your villainous uncle because of an old friendship of some sort?”
Hamlet’s face twisted in anger and he spat over the side of the boat. “They were friends at school. And now they were to be a collective Charon, our boat their vessel across the Styx and the King of England their miserly Hades who would do anything for gold.”
Tybalt looked up. “Your uncle arranged for you to be killed by the King of England?”
Hamlet nodded and held up a letter. “I found this one night.” He grinned, and Tybalt recognized himself in the smile as much as in the earlier madness. Puck was not the only one with mischief in him, though Tybalt’s mirth lay buried beneath years of misery. “In truth, I sneaked into their berth and stole it. It is a command to kill the man accompanying the bearers of this letter. Me. My uncle wants to be rid of me.”
Puck returned the grin and clapped his hands, rubbing them together. “Wonderful! This will do simply wonderfully. Might I suggest a simple means by which you may rid yourself of some treacherous friends and be of service to us, thus repaying Master Tybalt for his agreeing to aid you?”
Hamlet glanced at Tybalt, who waved for Puck to continue. He should have realized he was being manipulated into doing exactly what the damned fairies wanted. He was always being manipulated; it seemed to be his lot. “Go on.”
“Change the letter. Have the English King execute your wicked sycophants. And, as a service to us, include a message to have a co-conspirator of theirs executed, as well. This man has proved himself equally as unctuous, and has earned the enmity of our Lord for his betrayal.” Puck reached into his vest and pulled out a piece of paper Tybalt knew had not been there before. The bloody fairies and their damnable tricks. “We were sent to apprehend him, but if we may, as they say, kill two birds with one stone…”
“Where do they say that?” Tybalt asked, riding his wave of annoyance until it crested.
Puck shrugged. “After this? England. That is beside the point. You, Prince Hamlet of Denmark, want to return and seek vengeance against your evil uncle, and Master Tybalt here wants to do that for you out of sympathy, having dealt with treacherous uncles of his own. In return, you wish to do us a favor. In accomplishing this favor, you might also rid yourself of a troublesome pair of flighty comrades, which is doubly nice for you. Thus, two birds, one stone. It’s a good phrase. And all it takes is a letter sealed with the symbol of Denmark, which I am sure you, as Prince, carry. Understand?”
“Name the man.” Hamlet did not hesitate. For all their shared tendency to prevaricate, both Tybalt and the Prince were men of action once their minds were made up. “And the letter will be written.”
“Wonderful. His name is Walter Raleigh.”
Hamlet choked on his own spit. “Sir Walter Raleigh? The explorer? The pirate?”
Puck nodded. “Yes. This was one of his ships, you know. Not his flagship, mind, but I am a great admirer of the occasional bit of spite, so we stole it and its charming crew. Taking your ship was just amusement. Fortuitous amusement, might I add.”
Tybalt’s lips twisted. “That’s because you let me do all the work of actually fighting.”
“And you did it so beautifully, mon frere. I could not look away from your glorious dance of death. You should be proud.”
Tybalt sketched a quick bow, gratified at the praise but unwilling to let Puck know it. Though the fairy probably did anyway. “Raleigh’s piracy has finally caught up with him. He stole from one of our Lord’s vassals, and such a slight is a slight upon our Lord. We were dispatched to seek retribution and were on our way to England when my companion had a yen to satisfy our rough sailors and decided to take your vessel.”
“I had to keep them on our side. They were becoming antsy.” Puck leaned against the rail. Moments later, a spray of salt water hit his face, leaving him sputtering. “Damn water nymphs.”
“If you were to deliver Raleigh to the English King along with your minders, the time we took to deliver you to Denmark would not be a waste.” Tybalt preferred to be direct when necessary. For all Puck’s incessant muttering about Tybalt’s tendency to poeticisms, the sprite was far more prone to waxing lyrical; he liked hearing himself talk. Sometimes, Tybalt wondered if they’d ever be completely comfortable with one another. It had been two-hundred years and they still did not quite fit.
Hamlet considered. “By what inducement could I achieve this? Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead at just the wish of Claudius, but Raleigh is a powerful Englishman.”
“Their Queen is not long dead, and the new King is tainted by his mother’s treachery. Surely there is some plot to overthrow him in which all three may be implicated.” Puck was wiping the sputum of the ocean from his face, glaring down at the green depths. “There are always plots to overthrow English monarchs. Always.”
Tybalt and Hamlet shared a look, then shrugged. “Point taken,” the Dane said. “I will write the letter.”
Puck waved the paper he’d pulled from his vest. Tybalt watched, indifferent to the fabrication. Once, in the early years of his obligation to the Courts, the lie would have cut, but apparently a life with the Capulets had inured him to deception more than he’d ever thought, because the transition had been quick. Only obfuscations designed to exclude him bothered Tybalt now, and secrets that left him reeling from ignorance. “Here is the proof our master has procured of Raleigh’s guilt.”
Hamlet took it. “Wonderful. Give me time to copy Claudius’ hand and write to my comrade in Elsinore. Then our duplicitous friends will meet their maker, and I shall be one step closer to ridding myself of that duplicitous Dane.” Turning to Tybalt, the Prince gestured toward his sword. “And perhaps we can spend the rest of this journey in practice? Words alone will not achieve my vengeance.”
Tybalt nodded, and Hamlet headed below decks. As soon as he was gone, Tybalt spun on his compatriot. He’d kept his growing disquiet to himself, but now that they were alone, Tybalt vented the anger pressing its fist against his heart. “Two centuries. Two. Centuries! And still you scheme alone, your plots and fancies laid out to the exclusion of all else but your own amusement and gain. We work for Oberon together. As partners. I understand you’re probably not used to that yet, but you and I are stuck together. I will not be treated like your dog, hanging around for scraps of your mischief to come raining down upon me. Do you understand?
Puck abandoned his human aspect and stared at Tybalt from his frightening eyes. “Am I?” He tilted his head, expression uncharacteristically serious.
Tybalt swallowed the instinct in him to unsheathe his weapon and crossed his arms against his chest. “Are you what?”
Puck grinned, but it did nothing to quell Tybalt’s primal unease. If anything, it gave the sprite a predatory cast, as if the Great Hunt had come once again to the Fairy Courts. “Your partner?”
“The King decreed it.” Tybalt joined Puck at the railing, leaning his back against it and hugging himself tighter. “And I serve him. By some whim of his, he saw fit to hurl us together to serve him in whatever manner he wished. We have been all over the world. We will continue to go all over the world. That is the definition of partner.”
Puck abandoned his mischief and laid a hand on Tybalt’s shoulder. “Then trust me.”
Tybalt frowned as the entire world seemed to hold its breath around him. Even the oceans and the breezes calmed, a preternatural stillness settling over the world as it waited in shock for Tybalt’s response. “Trust you?”
“Yes. If I am your partner, you must trust me.” Puck’s earnestness was the most frightening thing of all, so at odds as it was with the very essence of the sprite’s nature. Tybalt quailed at it, unable to meet his compatriot’s eyes. “Sometimes I don’t tell you things – and that’s my fault – but understand that I won’t lead you astray. I don’t understand why Oberon threw us together, but he did. And I was not thrilled. But we have been together for a long time, and if you want me to trust you, you have got to trust me.”
Tybalt did not answer right away. Leave it to him to finally consider his words right when he really shouldn’t. “Yes. Of course. You are right. We must trust one another.” He took a big breath. “Fine. Yes. From now on, trust.”
“Good.” Puck nodded, then stared out at the ocean, the two men falling into silence. The fairy could not stand it for long, however, and turned his wild, gleaming gaze to Tybalt. “So. Partner. I should probably tell you.”
There it was; Puck’s irrepressible nature. “What?”
“After we go to Denmark. We’re supposed to meet up with Ariel.”
Tybalt groaned. “Not that stupid…”
“Hey! At least I told you, right? We’re being honest here. Tons of honesty.” Puck grinned. “This is going to work out for me, isn’t it?”
Tybalt shook his head, an unexpected smile breaking out over his swarthy face. “Now you’re going to go too far in the other direction and tell me every excruciating detail, aren’t you?”
“Honesty and trust are best, I’ve heard. The way partners behave.” Puck shouldered Tybalt jokingly, then sobered. “But, in the case of Ariel, this is perfectly serious. He’s been captured, and Oberon wants him freed.”
“He wants the favor Titania will owe him, doesn’t he?
Puck nodded. “Yup. You know… it’s a good thing we stole the pirate ship. We’ll need it to get where we’re going.”
Tybalt sighed. “You planned that, too, didn’t you?”
Tybalt raised an eyebrow.
- Alexandra Long, aka C, is the boring half of Nerd Cactus, bringing dull things like history and an obsession with mythology to the table. Unlike people with proper hobbies, she’s defined herself as a storyteller since she was knee high to a grasshopper and has no plans to branch out (much). On her own, she tends to write stories in the extraordinarily pretentious category of mytho-historical political fantasy (or any subgroup thereof), but as one half of Nerd Cactus, most her stuff falls under the banner of literary fangirling. Thus far, most of Nerd Cactus’ efforts have focused on Shakespeare, but there are plans to branch out into other great writers and even – gasp – non-literary influences. Their novel, Killing Mercutio, is currently in the final editing phase, and a one act play titled Bill and Ben’s Excellent Adventure is set to have a staged read-through in the coming months.
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