The Isle of Daffodile
The Fish House toppled out the river’s tunnel onto the ocean and headed north for Jonquil.
Jonquil was an island chain not too far from the continent. Unlike the countries on the continent, Jonquil no longer had an absolute monarchy. They did keep a princess for show, but they did not listen to her, nor did the majority of Jonquilians even know of her existence. The concept of kings and queens was frowned upon; thus, the subject remained unmentioned. They were a republic, and intended to keep their country as such.
Jonquilians did not care for a person’s birth status. They prided themselves on being a nation of equal opportunity. So whether a prince or a pirate, no one was rejected (unless he started plundering Jonquil). Many came to the country as a means of escape, and that was how Brevis and Captain Brandy met and became friends.
The concept of such a place fascinated Umbilicus. He dreamed of Jonquil and the challenges coming his way as he bathed under the sun, laying on the deck and tuning out the sound of squeaking and scampering giant rats.
‘Umbs, we’re almost there.’
Umbilicus opened his eyes to see Captain Brandy looking down onto him, blond dreadlocks dangling.
‘There where?’ mumbled Umbilicus.
‘The Jonquil Isles,’ said Captain Brandy.
Umbilicus’ attention perked. Soon he would be able to prove himself. As he squinted to see the Captain through bright beams, Brevis came into Umbilicus’ line of view. ‘Are we on break?’ asked Brevis.
‘I am,’ said Captain Brandy. ‘I have Cookie and Cutter handling things.’ The Captain pointed towards the rats steering the ship.
Brevis gazed down at Umbilicus, wavy brown hair hanging. ‘You should stop lazing around,’ said Brevis, nudging Umbilicus in the side with the tip of his boot. ‘You have to act like a pirate to be a pirate.’ He had hoped the boy would participate more, but Umbilicus continued to think he was above working with rodents and criminals. Brevis was familiar with code of honour knights swore to, but they were not currently doing anything illegal.
The Captain shared similar sentiments towards the boy, having discussed with Brevis why Umbilicus came along. The two were able to complete the quest on their own, but Brevis had been adamant to give Umbilicus a chance to be known for something other than his dashing aesthetics.
‘You need pirate-kohl,’ said Captain Brandy, looking back down at the boy.
Umbilicus stood up and smoothed his clothes. ‘Knights do not wear makeup.’
‘Pirate-kohl is not makeup,’ said the Captain. ‘It’s part of our attire.’
Brevis nodded. Pirate-kohl was tradition. He had applied pirate-kohl soon after boarding. ‘It wards off evil and the sun’s rays. Considering how much you like to tan, you should try it.’
‘The warding off of evil spirits is questionable,’ admitted the Captain. If pirate-kohl worked in that way, they would not have had so many close encounters with evil spirits during Daffodil’s quests.
‘I cannot,’ said Umbilicus, unwavering. ‘One of the many reasons why the Princess likes me is because I do not paint my face.’ She had chosen him, a simple knight, over flamboyant nobles.
Captain Brandy thought Umbilicus was being silly. Pirate-kohl was very different from what the dandies in Tarsus wore. ‘She’s not here now, is she?’
Umbilicus shook his head.
‘And you’re on a pirate’s ship,’ said the Captain.
‘It will also make your eyes pop,’ added Brevis.
Captain Brandy pulled out a stick of pirate-kohl and held it in front of Umbilicus’ face. ‘Stop moping and put on your pirate-kohl.’
Umbilicus turned away. ‘I cannot help it,’ he said. ‘I need to be with her. I have to be her husband.’ To marry the Princess would be the greatest honour. He could not jeopardize his chances by participating in crooked activities.
’You don’t have to be with her,′ said the Captain, putting a hand on the boy’s shoulder. ‘I’ve been happily single my entire life.’
Umbilicus scowled. They would not leave him alone. ‘You live on a ship full of rats. How is that happy?’
‘Ah, but rats who will not conspire mutiny,’ said Captain Brandy, gesturing to the surrounding crew, who were happily working without questioning the Captain’s authority.
‘They are rats!’ exclaimed Umbilicus, trying to reason with the pirate. ‘You must want a person to hold.’
‘I can hug Brevis whenever I want,’ defended Captain Brandy, demonstrating a hug with said man. ’I can snuggle with a rat anytime I want to too. Besides, it’s not so easy finding someone who wants to be with a mutt, even in Jonquil.
‘Really,’ said Umbilicus, crossing his arms. ‘Neither of you want to marry?’
‘It’s good to know your intentions with my niece,’ said Brevis, rubbing his neck, ‘but I’ve been married. It was annulled due to cruelty on her part.’ He paused for a second before adding, ‘—and treason.’
‘Women,’ Captain Brandy shivered.
They made love sound bleak. Nevertheless, Umbilicus knew it would not be that way for him. He was a handsome knight, and he had danced all night with the Princess. Once he rescued her from the wicked elf-giant, she would see that he was the one for her. ‘What point are you two trying to get at?’ he asked.
Brevis shrugged. ‘This is a ship for the forever alone,’ he suggested.
‘Which means pirate-kohl is entirely acceptable,’ said Captain Brandy.
‘Exactly,’ Brevis concurred. ‘Who cares about what a girl might think?’
Captain Brandy nodded and winked slyly at Brevis, signalling for attack.
Before Umbilicus knew it, he was bent to his knees, held into submission by Brevis from behind, and the Captain was about to poke his eyes with the blasted pirate-kohl.
‘Let me go!’ Umbilicus yelled. ‘I am a knight. I cannot wear pirate makeup.’ His pride would not allow it. He was already considered delicate in appearance for a knight. If word got out in Tarsus about him wearing makeup, his reputation would never recover among the ranks.
Brevis did not let go. ‘You do not see me complaining, and I am technically a prince.’
Captain Brandy’s attention diverted to Brevis. ‘Aha! So you admit it.’
As an idea suddenly entered Brevis’ mind, ‘Wait. I am Prince, and you are a knight. Aren’t you supposed to obey my every command?’
‘I am not sure,’ said Brevis, grinning wolfishly. ‘I have not read the book in a while.’
‘Just behave,’ Captain Brandy said calmly, trying to coax the boy into agreement. ‘My word is law on this ship.’
’And I can always tell my brother, the King, that you were misbehaving—pirating,′ added Brevis, leaving out how Talus lived pirating fantasies vicariously through him.
A few rats, who also wore pirate-kohl, were watching and ready to help. They had brute force and threats. Umbilicus had no hope. ‘Fine,’ he said, caving. ‘I will wear your makeup.’
‘Yes,’ exclaimed Captain Brandy. Brevis released Umbilicus. ‘And it’s not makeup, its pirate-kohl. Do you have a mirror on hand?’
Brevis pulled out a square compact mirror from his pocket. ‘Here you are.’
Captain Brandy took the mirror from Brevis and held it up for Umbilicus. ‘Relax, Umbs. We’re teaching you how to look the part.’
They sat in a circle as Captain Brandy and Brevis taught Umbilicus how to apply pirate-kohl. They told him that he would appear foppish if he did not apply pirate-kohl properly. The smudged was the trend. In fear, Umbilicus paid close attention, applying pirate-kohl to his eyes carefully. Upon completion, Umbilicus observed that Brevis was right; his eyes popped.
They stood and admired their work.
‘Do your eyes feel better?’ asked Brevis.
Umbilicus gazed at the sky. He did not feel the need to squint as much as before. ‘Sort of,’ he admitted.
‘You look passable for a pirate,’ Captain Brandy noted. ‘Maybe you will start acting like one.’ Umbilicus furrowed his brows softly.
‘Do not worry. I will not tell any of the knights, or my brother, when we return,’ Brevis reassured.
Umbilicus saw land. He dashed to the side of the ship with the best view. The island was grand. He saw gold and white towers lining the coast, and a large harbour filled with ships. ‘Is that where we are going?’
Captain Brandy and Brevis joined Umbilicus. ‘No, that’s where the capital is located,’ said the Captain. ‘We’re going to a much smaller island.’
‘If we are lucky, she will send us there,’ laughed Brevis.
‘And we will not die,’ added the Captain.
Umbilicus swallowed. He had not forgotten about the quest. Despite the pair’s casual tone, they were not joking. They had to complete the quest to be taken to their heart’s desire; and in his case, his heart sought the Princess and all that she represented. He needed to do it.
Umbilicus was curious. ‘Captain, what are you seeking?’ he inquired.
‘What do you mean?’ asked the Captain.
‘You said that the witch will bring you to your heart’s desire for completing the quest.’
‘I want to go to the Eastern end of the world,’ said Captain Brandy.
Before Umbilicus had left with Brevis, he had not even considered what was past the borders. ‘What is at the end of the world?’ he asked.
‘I suppose it depends on which end you go to, but on the Eastern end is home,’ explained the Captain. ‘Grandpa Rumpert and Grandma Ancola were among the first to interbreed. They had no place to retire when Grandpa Rumpert grew old. It wasn’t very accepted back then, and we’re still frowned upon in some parts. One day, when they reached the ocean East of East, the only ocean they had yet to travel to, they met the Good Witch. She saw how frail Grandpa Rumpert was, so she took them to where the world ended and grew an island for them. Then the Good Witch gave Grandma Ancola some of Grandpa Rumpert’s age and gave Grandpa Rumpert some of Grandma Ancola’s youth. Now they’re aging gracefully together.’
‘What is so appealing about a two-elf island?’ asked Umbilicus. The Captain’s grandparents lived there, but he could not understand why one would go through all the trouble.
‘It’s not a two-elf island,’ said the Captain. ‘Their children and their children’s children retire there. It’s tradition. I was born there too. Other mutts have moved there as well. It’s not just my family. Last time I checked, it was almost the size of a small town. I’d give up pirating to return.’
‘Why would you need Daffodil’s help to get there?’ asked Umbilicus. The island had to be relatively accessible to grow and for the Captain to leave. ‘Can’t you sail there on your own?’
Head shaking, the Captain replied, ‘Most people who travel East of East never see the end of the continent. I don’t intend on risking my life to see past East of East.’
‘Then how did the island reach the population of a small town if it is so dangerous to travel to?’ pressed Umbilicus.
‘The Good Witch used to take us to and from whenever she made her rounds,’ Captain Brandy explained.
‘She has been gone for years,’ Brevis grievously added. ‘When they expected her to come, she never came. Loti sent a search party, but when they finally reached East of East, her home was deserted. They said it looked like it had been abandoned for years. It was a miracle they made it back alive.’
‘That’s why I need to win passage to my heart’s desire,’ said the Captain, determinedly. ‘I want to go home.’
‘What happened to the Good Witch?’ asked Umbilicus. She sounded so powerful that it did not make sense for her to vanish so simply.
‘A witch’s heart is her life,’ explained Brevis. ‘It seeps to their skin. It is who they are. When it breaks—they lose themselves. What breaks their heart, and how they lose themselves, is different for every witch. I can only imagine what happened to her.’ From the sombre tone of his voice, Umbilicus knew not to pursue the matter further.
The Captain smiled and elbowed Brevis. ‘Perhaps Charter and Nelumbella are headed for the island. It’d be a great place to raise giant-elf-human children.’
‘Do not say such things,’ groaned Umbilicus.
The waves were calm, and the passage was easy, as the Fish House weaved through Jonquil. Each island they passed was as magnificent as the first yet characteristically unique. Jonquil was truly a prosperous nation.
The crew arrived at the Isle of Daffodil, a small haven lost in the haze of vibrant ports. Covered by a thick fog, it appeared lifeless. However, with the Fish House anchored, they were able to see green but none of the striking architecture of the other islands. If one did not know better, it was easy to miss.
And that was just what Daffodil wanted. The land belonged to her. Witches preferred to live in seclusion.
Stepping on soil, Umbilicus’ vision took on an unexpected clarity. The island was mostly grass and flowers. Daffodils, not surprisingly, bloomed in every corner, and at the centre was a flourishing garden. Among the variety of vegetables, such as eggplants and tomatoes, he observed that pumpkins were her trademark. She had even grown a giant one in to the middle. Umbilicus liked the welcoming vibe.
Yet, Umbilicus thought the island was haunted.
He heard whispers. He hoped it was Brevis and the Captain, but they were silently strolling along; and Dira, who had come off the ship with them, was not panting. Nonetheless, Umbilicus was certain someone was talking about him—and laughing at him. Only, he did not know who it was. Without a house in sight, Umbilicus was sceptical about the witch’s existence. Umbilicus theorized that he was going to be sacrificed to the evil spirits his pirate-kohl was failing to ward off. He was beyond paranoid.
When they stopped in front of the giant pumpkin, Umbilicus realized it was not a normal vegetable. The pumpkin was outfitted with windows, a chimney, and a door.
Neither Brevis nor the Captain knocked. The entrance was unlocked, and they strode in unannounced. The whispers ceased, and Umbilicus thought he was safe.
Inside the pumpkin, they found the witch. She was not what Umbilicus had expected. She was not a green hag. She was not particularly old either. The witch’s hair was peppered grey, and her skin had fine lines. She also seemed approachable but not friendly. She was neutral.
‘Well, well,’ said the witch, spotting them. She went to Brevis and hugged him. ‘Have you finally come to woo me?’
‘Oh, Daffy,’ Brevis laughed. ‘I am sure you can find a better man.’
‘Really?’ she said. ‘The most powerful witch in the East wants you, and the most powerful witch in the West wanted you. You must be the best. The most powerful witch in the North has to want you too.’
‘Ah, but the most powerful witch in the South does not want me,’ Brevis pointed out.
‘Don’t be silly,’ said the witch. ‘We all know witches do not reside in the South.’
‘I don’t,’ said Umbilicus, seeing an in. ‘Why is that?’ Umbilicus studied the pair, utterly confused. He thought that Brevis did not involve himself with romance.
‘None of us like the weather. It makes us melt,’ the witch explained nonchalantly.
‘You are as lovely as ever, Daffodil,’ noted Captain Brandy, stealing her attention.
‘As do you, Brandywine,’ she replied. ‘Who is this charming young man?’
‘Charming,’ said Umbilicus, introducing himself.
Brevis corrected him: ‘His name is Umbilicus.’
‘I am charmed to meet you too, Umbilicus,’ said the witch, shaking his hand. ‘I am Daffodil. Tell me, why are you darlings visiting?’
‘We are here to help with some chores,’ said Brevis, ‘the one for our heart’s desire.’
Daffodil clapped her hands together. ‘Good to know you’ve finally come to your senses. That grocery list of mine needs to be done as soon as possible.’ In a small puff of smoke, a rolled scroll appeared between her fingers. Examining the newcomer, she withheld the list. ‘Is the boy coming with you?’
‘Yes, he is,’ replied Brevis.
‘Are you sure that is wise?’ asked Daffodil, repetitively running her eyes over Umbilicus. ‘Maybe it would be best for you to go without him. You can leave him with me.’
‘No, I need to complete this quest,’ insisted Umbilicus.
‘Can you shop like a man?’ asked Daffodil, raising a brow.
The question puzzled Umbilicus. He was a man, so if he shopped, he would be shopping like a man. He stood his ground. ‘I swear I will do whatever it takes.’
‘Very well,’ said the witch, sighing. ‘Since I don’t know you very well, before I let you go grocery shopping for me, I’d like for you to help around the house. Think of it as a small test.’ The paper sizzled in the air.
‘What do you want me to do?’ asked Umbilicus.
‘I need some help watering my garden,’ she said. ‘A nice, strong, young lad like you should be able to manage just fine.’
‘I can do that,’ said Umbilicus. Watering a garden was a basic task.
Daffodil smiled. ‘Brandy, dear, you’ve always had a way with plants. Won’t you show him how it’s done?’
‘Yes, Daffy,’ said the Captain, ushering Umbilicus out of the house.
Umbilicus was relieved that the whispering voices were not present, but he did not know that the plants, who had been whispering amongst themselves before, were silent because they were trying to behave for the person who would feed them. They wanted their water as soon as possible. Furthermore, no matter how much they liked to chatter, they did not want to disrupt his learning.
‘Do you really have a green thumb?’ inquired Umbilicus, as they crossed the garden. ‘You live on a boat.’
‘I’m decent,’ Captain Brandy admitted, ‘but I haven’t inherited even a green fingernail from my elf side. It’s Brevis who’s brilliant.’
‘Then why isn’t he out here with me?’ asked Umbilicus.
‘Because he’s a witch magnet,’ answered the Captain.
Umbilicus’ eyes widened. ‘So she does actually like him like that?’
‘No, I’m joking—sort of,’ laughed the Captain. ‘Now that he’s older, her advances are harmless. It’s more of a jest between the two at this point. She kept him back to help with other things. He’s very good with witching; it’s why he’s good with gardening. I swear if he were born with magic, he would be one of the greatest wizards in history.’
Captain Brandy led Umbilicus to a stone well. ‘Your task is fairly simple,’ said the Captain, demonstrating the mechanics. ‘You use the water from this well to water the garden. It’s simple. Just pull until the pail comes up. Oh, and the well is enchanted. If you fall in, you won’t come out the same.’ The Captain handed Umbilicus a red watering pot. ‘They’ll tell you if they’re thirsty. Work hard. Daffy loves a sweaty man. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see what they’re brewing.’ With that, the Captain abandoned Umbilicus and hurried to the house.
Umbilicus removed his coat and rolled up his sleeves. Umbilicus wondered who would tell him. Surely, he the voices were of his imagination.
Captain Brandy found Brevis and Daffodil in the kitchen.
‘Daffy, how about we add frog hair into the mix?’ suggested Brevis, standing on a ladder to collect ingredients from a high shelf.
‘Do whatever you want,’ Daffodil said dismissively, gazing out a window to appreciate Umbilicus. ‘As long as it works, I don’t care.’ She sighed. ‘Seeing a young man at work is great.’ She loved the way the knight flexed as he lifted the watering pot and pulled up the pail.
Brevis climbed down. He walked to the large cauldron in the centre of the room and began adding the ingredients, measuring and stirring as he did so. ‘You know, Daffy,’ he said, ‘I do not have the ability to do this on my own.’
‘Here, here,’ she said, blindly grabbing a wand on the windowsill. She waved the wand and shot the cauldron with a burst of magic, eyes still focused on Umbilicus. ‘Let me admire the sight, wont you?’
Brevis sighed. When he was younger, Daffodil always helped him when she had him brew. The task was currently much more troublesome.
Captain Brandy joined Brevis by the cauldron, taking over the task of stirring. ‘What are you making?’
‘A week’s supply of never-sleep potion,’ said Brevis, weighing a burgundy lump and slicing it. ‘I suppose Daffy’s more urgent than expected for us to complete the quest.’
The Captain laughed. ‘We won’t be needing pirate-kohl anymore.’
‘Nonsense,’ said Brevis. ‘Pirate-kohl is necessary for pirating, and we have a list of treasure to find.’
‘When you put it like that, I can’t argue,’ said Captain Brandy.
A scream rang through the island, and Daffodil jumped back a step.
‘It talks?’ they heard Umbilicus yell.
‘I’m not an it!’ another voice protested. ‘I am a he!’
Captain Brandy stopped stirring and dropped the ladle. ‘Brevis, I thought you told him!’
‘It must have slipped my mind,’ said Brevis. ‘Besides, you were the one showing him the works.’
The Captain rushed outside.
After Captain Brandy explained the nature of a witch’s plant, Umbilicus was able to complete the chore, but it took longer than expected.
The vegetables hissed at Umbilicus, disliking him because of his mistake. Umbilicus had called a tomato plant, who was obviously male in the garden’s opinion, an it. The plants constantly harassed Umbilicus, asking for their gender before letting him water them. By the end, he was somewhat able to tell the difference. The experience was far from pleasant.
Although Daffodil was supposedly in a rush to get the items on her grocery list, she did not mind how long it took Umbilicus to finish. She recalled when Brevis had first arrived to do the same chore. Oh, yes, she liked to watch young men toiling away very much.
Umbilicus stumbled into the house when the potions were cooled and bottled.
Brevis, who was lounging with the Captain and Dira, closed the book he had been reading. ‘Captain, Dira,’ he said, interrupting the conversation the two were engaged in. ‘We are ready to go.’
‘Already?’ said the Captain, full of energy, springing up to Daffy. ‘Daffodil, grocery list. ’
‘Patience,’ said the witch. She clapped her hands together, and the parchment reappeared in a puff of smoke. ‘What do you say first, Brandy?’
‘May I please have the list?’ said the Captain, mildly pointed ears twitching downwards.
Daffy handed the grocery list over. ‘Good pirate,’ she said, patting Captain Brandy’s head.
‘Thank you, Daffy,’ said the Captain, unrolling the list to reveal its contents. Upon reading it, the Captain’s eyes widened. ’You’re kidding me. This is insane. The thing doesn’t know how to drop.′
‘Nothing’s insane,’ insisted Daffodil. ‘It’s a challenge. Besides, what did you expect considering what I will give you in return?’
‘What’s insane?’ asked Umbilicus, leaning over the Captain’s shoulder.
Captain Brandy manoeuvred away from the knight, opting to show the grocery list to Brevis instead.
Inspecting the paper, Brevis frowned. ‘So the never-sleep is not all for us, but how will we manage to get the last items?’ he said.
‘We’ve fought a kraken. We can do this,’ said Captain Brandy, determined.
‘Don’t discuss your plan of action in my house,’ said Daffodil, shooing them to the door. ‘Go out, and take action. You’ll have plenty of time to think about it when you’re supposed to be sleeping.’
‘Of course, Daffy,’ said Brevis, embracing her goodbye. ‘We will be back before you know it.’
‘You better,’ she said, pinching his grinning cheek. ‘I’d hate to hear you’ve been eaten.’
‘Farewell, Daffy,’ said Captain Brandy, rolling and pocketing the scroll. The Captain kissed her cheek and dashed out.
‘Goodbye, ma’am,’ said Umbilicus, bowing to the witch. ‘Thank you for giving me the opportunity.’
‘Your potions,’ she reminded.
‘Right,’ said Brevis, picking up one of the crates in the corner. ‘Umbilicus, grab the other one for me.’ Umbilicus obliged.
The men and wolf left the giant pumpkin.
On the way to the Fish House, the conversations Umbilicus heard were different from before. Not attempting to hide their chatter, the plants no longer whispered. Some appreciated Umbilicus’ efforts and tried to apologize, but others, tomatoes specifically, continued to hate him. Umbilicus noticed that the plants all liked Brevis to the point of asking him to water them next time to save them from the blond monster.
When the potions were safely stored, Captain Brandy steered the Fish House out of the fog.
Umbilicus approached the Captain at the helm. ‘Will you show me the list or at least tell me where we are going?’ asked Umbilicus, not wanting to follow blindly.
‘Sorry, Umbs, no can do,’ said the Captain.
‘Why is that?’ asked Umbilicus, offended.
From behind, Brevis said, ‘We do not want to scare you.’
Umbilicus scrunched his face in a way that made him a little less than pretty. He needed at least a hint of their destination in order to prepare for the task. ‘Can you tell me how many things are on the list?’
Captain Brandy handed the wheel over to Cookie and Cutter, who were standing by, and looked to Brevis for permission.
Brevis sighed, knowing it was unfair to Umbilicus, but the boy had never been out of Tarsus before, and what they were going to face was frightening even for a well-versed explorer. ‘I suppose you might as well,’ he said.
‘Most are normal items we can pick up at the capital, but there are five items that are a bit more complicated. We need to go to two islands that aren’t regularly visited,’ explained the Captain, giving the boy as much harmless information as possible. ‘Three are in the first, and two are in the last.’
Umbilicus pressed further. ’But where are we going?′ He wanted to know as much as they were willing to share. The witch did say it was a grocery list. Therefore, they had to be heading for cities and towns, because that was where stores were located.
Brevis and Captain Brandy glanced at each other mischievously. ‘My boy,’ Brevis said, resting a hand on Umbilicus’ shoulder. ‘Do you even need to ask? We are going shopping. The list is for groceries after all.’
Umbilicus had a feeling that they were not doing the shopping he hoped they would be doing.