the novelist imagines he is mad

The novelist swung unsteadily from the rope ladder. The clustered pirates gazed up at him skeptically.

The novelist flourished his cutlass. “Ah,” he said. “Right.”

That was, he realized, no way to start a mutiny. At least not a mutiny facing the proper direction. From a bit higher on the rigging, he could hear his companions whispering anxiously.

He decided to try a different tack.

“You lot look like a lot of wormy apple carts,” he announced. “You smell worse than the bottom of a dead sea slug, and you have the brains of a two-headed—er—three-eyed—ah—cross-toed, ah, lizard—without a brain.”

The pirates burst into wild cheers. This was the sort of speech they liked. From his perch beside the tiller, Cap’n Jonas Sly nodded approvingly.

“I suppose,” the novelist said, “you’re wondering why I’ve called you all on deck.”

The pirates nodded.

“Well, that just shows how ignorant you are,” said the novelist. “I didn’t call you on deck.” He pointed at Cap’n Sly. “He did!”

The pirates guffawed, cheered, and toasted everyone and their grandmother with five rounds of grog (which was something they did for any reason at any time upon the slightest provocation).

The novelist waited patiently for them to finish. He wondered why Cap’n Sly wanted him to start a mutiny. Certainly, most pirate captains he’d met—though offhand he couldn’t quite remember when he’d met another pirate captain—took a dim view of mutinies. They were (said the other pirate captains the novelist couldn’t quite remember meeting) bad for morale, and discipline, and staying alive in general.

The novelist decided he’d waited long enough. “I say! You lot look like toads who got turned into princes so ugly, they never got turned back to toads!”

A hush fell over the carousing pirates. They stared at the novelist suspiciously. Sentiments like these were out of their depth, and sounded suspiciously like book-learning.

“In fact,”  said the novelist, warming to his subject, “you don’t even look like your disgruntled fairy godmothers did a particularly good job changing you from toads!”

An angry murmur from the crowd made him wonder if he’d gone to far. He was, he reminded himself, addressing a (rather drunk) crowd of bloodthirsty pirates, not a town hall meeting. Not, he reminded himself again, that he’d ever addressed a town hall meeting, drunk or otherwise.

“In fact,” he shouted, “I bet you lot still think so much like toads, you can’t even hold a decent mutiny!”

The crowd booed.

That is not strictly true. When an assembled crowd of pirates boos, they actually make a variety of noises sounding something like “BUURRRAAHHRAAAGHGGHAAH!”, and have an embarrassing tendency to fire pistols, shatter bottles, and spit out mouthfuls of grog. It is, therefore, insufficient to simply say they “booed”. That’s too much to burden on any verb, no matter how unassuming.

Cap’n Sly swung to his feet, grinning. A pistol gleamed in each hand. “All right, you swabs! You’ve been given a fine challenge, sure enough. You think you’re toad-brained mutineers, do you? The next swab I see who’s not singing a mutinous song should get ready to go down to feed my dear old uncle in his present reincarnation as a kraken!”

The pirates looked around anxiously. It’s clear that no mutinous songs were coming to mind.

“Er,” said the novelist, “isn’t that a bit much, Cap’n?  I mean, ‘Rum, Rum, Rum, Hurrah for Rum, Rum, Rum’  isn’t the best song to start a mutiny with, is it?”

Cap’n Sly’s grin widened viciously. “Then these swabs had better not sing it!” He shoved his pistol in the novelist’s ear. “Let’s hear your mutinous ditty, ye swab!”

With a sigh, the poet swung down the rigging. “Too much fuss, friends! It so happens that I have a mutinous lyric composed for just such an emergency.”

The pirates cheered nervously. That is, they made a collecting of sounds no verb should be blamed for.

The poet waved his hands, and sang in a not ungraceful voice.

because the snow was on
the daylilies.
like two dozen forgotten dreams of winter when the morning came
you were farther than you’d ever swept
the cream off the pantry door
and the bitter music of my tears
make merry
the seven cornered pathway of the immortals
under the snow.
look for the pantry, but it’s gone
like the daylilies
again.

The pirates joined in loudly the next time through, with a noise for which ‘sing’ should not be made to take any responsibility.

Cap’n Sly grinned. “Well, we’ve got a mutiny under way, then, have we?”

The poet was staring upward dismally. “Actually,” he said, “we haven’t.”

“What?” roared Cap’n Sly.

The poet shrugged. “It would seem I inadvertently sang the song meant to bring down the sky. It seems to be working. Sorry.”

The novelist looked up, saw the jagged cracks sprouting across the sky. He realized again that, mutiny or not, he was not exactly having a good day.

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