Characters (so far): America, Canada, Seychelles, Spain, Belarus, Hungary, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Prussia, Germany, N. Italy, England
Warnings: Some violence, a bit of blood, and sailors cursing the way they do.
Summary: AU. When a dying sailor leaves them the fabled map to Captain Roma’s Treasure Island, orphaned brothers Alfred and Matthew will have to stick together to survive an adventure full of pirates, new friendships, danger and betrayal.
Chapter Five: In Which the Captain is Deeply Unsatisfied with His Crew
One month later, almost to the day, Alfred and Matthew stood on the edge of a crowded dock and stared up at the most beautiful ship either of them had ever seen.
The tiny port that had fed the Admiral Benbow for so long had only received small fishing boats and the occasional whaling vessel. Even the elaborate merchant ships that wandered their way looking for trade tended to be small and humble, representing no significant loss if they ran aground on the rocky shores.
But this ship – the Hetalia, he name was – was a masterpiece. A former navy clipper refurbished for private use, she towered a full two stories above the dock. Her mast bore grand sails into the sky like massive clouds, stringing her flags so high they could not be seen from where the teens stood. On her bow, a shy mermaid cupped her own cheek and turned her head from the crowd with a maidenly blush, as though ashamed of her own simplicity. And it was true that there were larger, grander and more extravagant vessels moored at this very dock. But the Hetalia outranked them all in beauty and wonder simply because she was theirs.
“Lovely, isn’t it?” Roderich said as he came up behind the boys. “Certainly nothing extravagant, but she should do nicely.”
“She’s beautiful,” Matthew breathed in wonder, and Alfred could only nod his head in assent.
Roderich chuckled, bemused by their youthful exuberance. He pulled a pocket watch from his waistcoat and flipped it open smartly. “It’s about time for the crew to board and prepare. I suppose we should do the same. Elizaveta?”
Elizaveta pushed through the crowd with more force than expected from a young lady of noble birth. Then again, she wasn’t exactly dressed like a noblewoman either. Her new clothes had simple earth tones, and her skirt was cut to her mid-tights, with her ankles only hidden by the thick leather boots that she wore underneath. She had just finished leaving two trunks in the care of a rugged-looking seaman, with instructions to take them up to Roderich’s designated cabin.
Alfred and Matthew took all of this in and came to the only logical conclusion. “You’re coming with us, Miss Elizaveta?”
“Why, of course,” Elizaveta giggled, squeezing her husband’s arm coquettishly. “My dear Roderich may look like he’s always in control, and trust me, he works very hard to keep it that way, but he’d just fall all to pieces if I wasn’t there to keep an eye on him.”
Roderich flushed and the twins giggled. Their one-month stay in the young master’s home had indeed revealed him to be mildly scatterbrained, conceivably because his head was so full of the music he liked to play at all hours of the day. He had nott decided to bring his piano with him on this voyage, but he had invested in a small melodeon, which could be wheeled from his cabin onto the deck if he so chose.
Matthew brushed a bit of his eyes and glanced back to Elizaveta. “But what about Miss Seychelles?”
“Miss Seychelles is to remain in London,” Vash muttered sourly from Roderich’s other side. The month had also revealed that he was not, in fact, mute – just particularly quiet and gun-happy when he was ill-tempered, which was almost always. “In the care of my sister.”
“Don’t you worry, boys,” Elizaveta said pleasantly as they made their way up the gangplank. “Liechtenstein will take good care of your mother while we’re gone.”
“She’s not our mother,” the twins chorused. Their words carried neither resentment nor insult. They were merely a statement of fact.
Elizaveta quirked a curious eyebrow, but by that time they had stepped onto the Hetalia’s deck and there were a number of other distractions on which to focus.
The crew bustled about them, scurrying this way and that in preparation for their departure. Lines were tested, cargo was loaded, riggings were checked, double-checked, triple-checked and checked a fourth time for good measure. All around them, people were in motion, never pausing for more than a breath before scurrying off to the next task.
Conducting it all from the top of a raised platform was a stern-faced man with slicked-back blonde hair, who glared at the world through serious blue eyes and commanded the crew like troops in an army. “You there! Check the bindings on the forward canons! The last thing we need is one of those blasted things rolling around during departure.”
“Ve, Ludwig!” chimed in a cheerful-looking man with short brown hair and a laid-back expression. He saluted the commander sloppily, wobbling on legs that were still unused to the sea. “The cargo’s almost all loaded! Just a few more crates of rations and we’ll have it all on!”
“Good,” the man Ludwig nodded, and stepped down from his platform when he spotted the approaching group.
Roderich seemed pleased by the firm hand being taken with the crew and approached the commander with a smile. “Everything ship-shape and ready to go, Captain?”
“There’s not really another shape she could be, sir,” Ludwig deadpanned humorlessly, “and I’m not the captain. He’s up there.”
He nodded to the crow’s nest. Craning their heads back, Matthew and Alfred could just catch sight of a dark blue military jacket darting around the look-out with ease.
Ludwig took a deep breath. That and his brown-haired friend stuffing fingers into his ears were the only warning the others were given before he shouted, “Brother! The benefactor’s on board!”
“All right, all right!” The figure in the crow’s nest shouted down in annoyance, just before he catapulted himself over the edge.
Elizaveta gasped and Matthew grabbed Alfred’s arm in horror. The blue-coated form plummeted towards the deck but, at the last moment, grabbed hold of a mast rigging with one hand. He swung around and around it like an acrobat, sliding down the taunt length as he did, his hand protected by thick leather gloves. At the end of the line he let go, arched through the air, and landed on his feet barely a meter away.
Elizaveta, Matthew and Roderich all gasped. Vash and Ludwig rolled their eyes.
“Okay,” Alfred admitted. “That was kind of awesome.”
The captain grinned as the straightened to his full height, clearly pleased with his entrance. He was about the same age as Roderich, though his roguish features made him seem younger and his nearly white hair skewed him slightly older. The individual articles of his clothing were all pieces of a military-issued naval captain’s uniform, but he was obviously taking advantage of his personal command to wear them as casual and flamboyantly as he wished.
“Well now,” he said with a wide grin and a tip of his hat. “I’ll take it you’re the rich bastard who hired me for this, then?”
“I…” Roderich stumbled a bit on the crude language, cleared his throat and started over. “Yes. Yes, I am Squire Roderich Edelstein…”
“Pleasure to meet yeh,” the captain said, clasping his hand for a rough and fairly brutal greeting. “Captain Gilbert Weillschmidt. Served in the royal navy for eight years, captained there for six, ‘til they tried to tell me how to run my ship on a personal level, at which point I told ‘em to fuck off. This here’s my baby brother Ludwig, the best first mate you’ll ever find, and the perky fellow off to the side there is his assistant, Feliciano.”
Ludwig bowed respectfully at his introduction, reacting to neither the praise nor the ‘baby brother’ comment. Feliciano grinned and waved as though he were greeting them from the shore rather than barely a foot away.
Roderich cleared his throat again, clearly out of his preferred depths. “It’s certainly a pleasure to miss you all…”
“And who is this pretty young thing?” Gilbert saddled up to Elizaveta with a lecherous sort of grin. “Hey there, love. You know, they say it’s bad luck to have a woman on board for a long voyage like this, but I think I might make an exception for a lovely lady like yourself. Should I show you to my cabin…?”
“This is Elizaveta,” Roderich interrupted. “My wife.”
To emphasize his point, Vash cocked one of his handguns noisily. Gilbert stopped in mid-flirt. He straightened, cleared his throat, folded one arm behind his back and kissed Elizaveta’s hand respectfully. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, madam.”
“The pleasure’s all mine, I’m sure,” Elizaveta chuckled, not bothering to hide her amusement.
Alfred and Matthew laughed out loud. Gilbert gave them a sour glare. “These runts belong to you as well?”
“We’re not runts!” Alfred insisted, and they really weren’t, for young teens. The top of his head was almost even with Gilbert’s shoulder.
Roderich stepped in, placing a hand on Alfred’s shoulder. “Captain Weillschmidt, this is Alfred and Matthew Williams-Jones. They’ve been contracted as crewmen on this voyage, the same as all the rest.”
“Ah yes,” Gilbert said dismissively. “The cabin boys.”
He turned away. Alfred made a face at his back.
“They also happen to be the young gentlemen currently in possession of the treasu–”
Gilbert twisted around, fast as lightning, and clapped a hand over Roderich’s mouth. His red eyes blazed with sudden fury. “I’d shut up if I were you.”
Vash’s hands went to his guns again. Around them, a few crewmen stopped their work to give them an odd look. A sharp word from Ludwig and they were back on duty, but the odd tenseness remained. It made Matthew shiver.
“I think we all need to have a talk,” Gilbert said slowly, releasing Roderich with the implicit condition that he remain silent. “In my cabin. Now.”
With a slightly better understanding of just why this man was captain, the group obeyed.
Once they were all inside the captain’s quarters, Ludwig shut and locked the door behind them. Gilbert sighed heavily and made his way around the desk to his seat.
“Squire Edelstein, will all due respect, I have to ask you a very serious question.” He placed both hands on the desktop and glared at the bespectacled man. “Are you a fucking idiot?”
“Because that’s the only thing I can think of that would make any sober man think it was a good idea to start blabbering on about a bloody treasure map in front of this fucking crew!” Gilbert snapped, and slammed his hands on the desk for emphasis.
Feliciano was almost unnaturally unfazed by it all, rubbing a finger in his ear. “Ve ve, Gilbert gets so loud when he’s annoyed.”
“Really,” Elizaveta muttered, glancing to the twins. “Captain, must you use such harsh language around the young ears?”
“We’ve heard worse, Miss Elizaveta,” Matthew assured.
“Yeah, all the sailors from the port used to come to our place to get drunk.”
Gilbert grinned a little at that. “Good, ‘cause I won’t be holding back for anybody. Not even you, pretty lady.” He sank back into his chair and threaded his fingers together with a kind of grave superiority. “Let me be perfectly frank with you all. I am not particularly fond of this crew you hired.”
“And just what is wrong with them?” Roderich demanded, still visibly flustered by the insult to his intelligence.
It was Ludwig who supplied the answer. “They’re unprincipled, uncivilized, undisciplined and, judging from their looks, have a collective criminal record long enough to properly paper the walls of every cabin on this ship.”
“Ve, and they’re all nasty and touchy about just about everything!” Feliciano added. “It’s like they’re all ready for some huge fight, no matter what happens!”
“Still, seeing as you’re the one footing the bill, and it’ll be awfully messy to try to change hands at this point in the game, I can’t see any alternative but to set sail with this lot,” Gilbert finished off, leaning back in his chair. “But from now on, all discussion about our destination, our navigation and, most importantly, our reason for sailing there, is to be kept between this inner circle, and only discussed here, in this cabin. Do I make myself clear?”
With some minor grumbling, the group gave their assent.
“Good. That settles that. Now,” Gilbert kicked back in his chair, perched his feet on the desk and motioned to the twins without looking at them. “Let me see that map.”
Alfred scowled and glanced to their benefactor for permission. Roderich sighed, rubbing his temples. “Go ahead, lad.”
Still frowning, Alfred dug into his rucksack and pulled out the map, shoving it into Gilbert’s grip. “Here.”
The captain unfolded the charts with ease, holding them up to be seen by the light of the sun. He grinned. “This is going to be an interesting trip.”
With a snap of his boots, he jumped out of the chair and pushed the map into his first mate’s hands. “Ludwig, take this and start plotting our course. I’ll be expecting it all charted out by the time the tide comes in, so you’ve got about an hour. Feliciano, you take the new munchkins down to the galley, they’ll be reporting to our cook, Mr. Kirkland. And I,” he saddled up to Elizaveta with the same smug look as before, ignoring the glares sent his way by both Roderich and Vash, “will show Miss Elizaveta to her cabin. Have to make sure you’re all settled in proper, eh, love? Come along, fellas, chop chop.”
With that, he strode out the door with Elizaveta in arm, followed closely by Vash and a silently fuming Roderich. Ludwig slipped out a moment later, the map concealed under his coat, leaving the twins alone with a still-grinning Feliciano.
“They took the map,” Alfred said dumbly.
Matthew shrugged. “For safekeeping, I guess.”
“But it’s our map!”
“You don’t have to worry!” Feliciano cut in with a silly sort of laugh. “Ludwig’ll take good care of it, and he’s the best navigator in the world!”
Alfred only scowled deeper at that, even as the cheerful crewman lead them from the captain’s quarters. He muttered, low enough that only Matthew could hear: “Bet Dad was better than him.”
Matthew gave his hand a sympathetic squeeze.
“Ve, and I know Captain Gilbert can be a bit grumpy sometimes,” Feliciano carried on, completely misinterpreting Alfred’s dour mood. “But he’ll lighten up once we get sailing. I can tell that he already kind of likes you! ‘Sides, I’m sure you’ll get along with Arthur, no problem. He’s a nice guy.”
“Who’s Arthur?” Matthew asked, trying to be polite.
“Arthur Kirkland! He’s our cook,” Feliciano’s grin widened as they headed down the stairs into the galley. “And since you two are going to be cabin boys, you’ll be working for him first and foremost. He’ll show you all the ropes, I’m sure. Ah, Arthur!”
From somewhere behind the crates of rations, a heavy pan clattered to the floor. Seconds later, a scraggily-looking blonde head with very distinctive eyebrows poked up over the top of the boxes.
“Ah, Feliciano,” the man, who could only be Arthur Kirkland, deadpanned. “How nice to see you here. Again.”
Feliciano laughed as though it was a joke. The twins weren’t sure about that. “I brought you something, Arthur!”
“So I heard. A couple of cabin boys, eh?” Kirkland’s head disappeared as he came around the edge of the wall. Every other step thumped heavily against the floor with the odd sound of wood-on-wood. “Good to see. I can always use a helping hand around here, as I’m sure you know.”
Finally, he came around where they could see him clearly. Matthew gasped and grabbed Alfred’s hand. The elder twin tensed, his breath catching in his throat.
Arthur Kirkland had only one leg.