by Serena W Sorrell
Without a word Janus slipped down the stairs leading below deck and searched for a place to be alone, physically and mentally. She had only ever had her mother. To be suddenly thrust among a menagerie of fantastic creatures and asked to captain a magical pirate ship was all just too much. Janus had not even come to terms with Triv’s death, not really. Janus found a half open door that emptied into darkness. That was what she needed. Some quiet darkness to sort herself out until she left the ship tomorrow. She would decide where to go when the ship sailed off without her, and how best to avoid the short lifespan Kitty had promised. Janus could survive, she would. She just had to figure out how.
Janus sat on the cold boards, letting the cold seep in her legs and back. She breathed out a shivery sigh in an attempt to spew out all her problems with it. It did not work.
“Too noisy for you up there, too?”
Janus jumped in alarm at being addressed by a rumbling nothing in the dark room.
“Oh, terribly sorry,” it drawled on, “shouldn’t’ve startled you without turning on the light first.”
A soft glow emanated from the other side of the door. It grew brighter and the light danced and shimmered on the walls. When Janus’s eyes adjusted to the white light she saw that what she had taken for a mountain of kegs and crates was actually a rhinoceros. A talking rhinoceros, which hardly surprised her at this point, but the two horns atop his muzzle shone like the sun through a cracked opal. Delicate colors sprinkled the lights on the wall and Janus felt an immediate sense of serenity fall over her like a warm blanket.
“I be Page; the ship’s log, and map, and gaoler…when there be a need for it. Not much use for any of that at the moment so I found me a quiet corner ‘til we push off. How ‘bout you?”
“I’m Janus,” her voice sounded so quiet to her own ears, so frail and small. “Triv’s daughter.”
“Ah, Triv’s babe is on board then. Put that in the log, I will.”
Page seemed incredibly pleased with something to write. But instead of any ink or quill or paper the date wrote itself on Page’s thick hide followed by: Triv’s daughter boarded. The tattooed words then sunk into Page’s skin, deeper and deeper, until they were discernible from his dark color. Janus understood he was not simply the ship’s recorder, but the actual log.
“Yes, well, you will have another entry tomorrow when I disembark.”
“Disembark? Whatever for?” Even in his shock, Page spoke with a slow rumble.
“I am not Triv, just her daughter. Just Janus.”
“Now you see here, Janus. You may be Triv’s daughter, but no one is just anything. Is that clear?”
Janus thought it better to nod half‑heartedly than to argue with a magical rhinoceros. Page, however, was not satisfied by halves.
“You know, your mother had her doubts when she took up the sword and became captain. Goodness, she was barely older than you. But just look at all the places she went to with us.”
Janus looked over her arms hugging her knees tight to her chest and saw a tattoo map draw lines across Page’s hide. A ship moved followed by a dotted line, representing the many travels of Triv had shared with the crew. Janus could never do that though. Lead a pirate ship. Run from her father. Fight him if need be. The sound of his voice alone had been enough to terrify her she realized. She just was not Triv. And if she was nothing like Triv then she had to be more like her father who had sounded so cold and calculating, levelheaded and logical.
“Still disheartened…” Page’s displeasure moaned as loud as he did when he got up and turned his luminous horns to Janus. “Do you think Triv was always the person you knew. She was your mirror once.”
In the fractured opalescent surfaces inside his horns images of Triv, a much younger, smaller Triv, appeared. Two dozen moving pictures of her mother when she had first come aboard The Menagerie and become captain. Years passed and Triv fought battles, her face fierce with courage; even when she was outnumbered. She knew the crew would protect her just as fiercely as she did them. More years played on and a man steered at the helm beside Triv. They kissed. They argued. He left and Triv fled with the ship.
“That was Caelus.” Janus knew it had been. “What happened, Page?”
“Oh, child, that man meant to deceive Triv from the start. He was the crown’s chartered pirate, still is. When he discovered it was a woman captaining The Menagerie, the one ship the crown wanted more than any other, he seduced her with pretty words and romance she had never experienced. When you came into the picture Caelus was furious when Triv wouldn’t let him take the captain’s oath. She saw that he meant to use you to become captain and put each of us into the pocket of the crown. We’d be locked away, put on display for royalty and nobles if she hadn’t run. If she hadn’t hidden us away, and you. One of us, Mercury the dragon, went off to alert Caelus, he wanted the gold as much as Caelus, you see. But it was too late. Triv had used all the magic she had to hide us here. And here we’ve been, waiting for our captain to find us.
“It takes a special kind of person to captain The Menagerie. It’s not something just anyone can do; but you got it in you to do, Janus. The ship, and all of us, is as old as the world; but it’s the ship what decides who has the spirit to lead us. You’d be a fine captain and I’d be proud to write of your exploits in me log.”
The images of Triv inside Page’s horns dimmed to a flicker until Janus could see through her mother.
“Can you keep playing the pictures of her? Please.”
“Aye, I can do that, Janus.”
And so, to the soft glow of the opal horns where her mother moved inside, Janus fell asleep aboard The Menagerie.
She woke with a start. Jack stood each to eye with her where she had slumped over and Charming had pecked her awake. Janus rubbed the sleep from her eyes and drew her sleeve across her dry lips.
“No good, Janus. Kitty says The Wing is close…too close.”
Janus was sleepy. She tried to pay attention, but still felt as though she was in a dream.
“Caelus’s ship!” Jack stamped on her fingers to wake her faster. “He’s found us and him and that thrice damned Mercury’ll be here within the hour. We hafta push off. Now.”
Janus was very much awake now. Her father had at last found where The Menagerie had been hidden by Triv all those years ago. Just as he had found Triv. If he had murdered Triv without a care, what were his plans for the crew and ship? Janus knew he would murder her as easily as he had her mother. Jack took the stairs to top deck two at a time. The deck had already come to life with motion and sound. The wood creaked. The sails had been unfurled. They were ready to leave. They were ready to leave now.
“So what’s it to be? You staying or going?” Jack stopped mid‑sprint to look at Janus.
The others looked up from their work. In less than a second all the sound, the movement, and the magic froze. Janus could not breathe.
“She’s gonna run.” Nero broke the quiet. “Look at her. She’s nothin’ like Triv. She’s just her daughter.”
One by one the crew members seemed to accept Nero’s declaration as Janus’s final decision. She had not had a say in it at all. Had they all decided she could not captain them?
“No! I’m staying! I’m my mother’s daughter, and that’s my father chasing you. So I’m going to be the one who protects The Menagerie and her crew!”
The deck lit up. Golden light raced along the railings. Silver drops rained from the sails as though they been shook out. Her mother’s sword floated up in front of her. Its straight blade widened and curved. The scabbard repaired and sea green jewels popped up like buds in spring around the locket. The same color washed over Janus and her clothes, tattered layers, became clothes fit for the finest of captains. The sword settled at her hip, properly sheathed and belted. The cut of her pants let her take long strides up the steps to the sterncastle deck. Scalloped lace edges peeked out from crisp buttoned cuffs. Her messy hair lay in one plait down her back and a bandana held back her fringe. The tricorne hat had one gem on its band and from that bloomed a single plume.
There could be no doubt or argument that Janus had become the captain of The Menagerie. She looked over the decks below the captain’s wheel. Jack’s were the final pair of astonished eyes she met. He gave her a neat nod and turned to the crew.
“Captain on deck!” He announced in that voice that didn’t suit him at all. “Captain’s orders?”
Janus gripped the smooth wood of the spokes with her newly acquired gloves. She had no idea what she was doing. But she knew she wasn’t alone. This was her ship to protect. This was her crew. And this was her life. For the first time exhilaration filled Janus up to the brim. This was her life.
“Menagerie, ready for immediate departure!”
(Reader-provided madlib words, in order used:
locket, malasadas, freedom, humidity, black iris, shoplift, smoke, self-determination, jackalope, skeleton key, fern, parlor, narwhal, pirate ship, paper clip, pangolin, conure, dove, mink, penguin, kitty, camaraderie, opal, tattoo.)