The faded green rowboat slowly glided across the still water of Pirate Bird lake during a misty early morning fog. Ripples slowly danced across the water's surface in a triangular formation and disappeared into the darkness. The silence was only broken by the muted clunks of wet wooden oars moving in oarlock sockets wrapped in linen and the soft sound of paddle ends skillfully dipped into the water in steady repetition.
Siren's Speak, the pirate's watchful sentinel, perched quietly on the bow of the rowboat next to Curly Grim. The Scarlet Macaw had been a faithful companion for Curly Grim for nearly ten years on the high seas and the past two years on the banks of Pirate Bird lake.
"Are we there yet?" asked Swabby Teach in a low, quiet voice almost imperceptible to Curly Grim despite the silence as Swabby let the oars momentarily slow the boat.
"I can't see," replied Curly in a measured tone only audible to Swabby and Siren's Speak.
"Can you hear anything?" Swabby inquired, turning his head to peer into the misty air ahead of the old green rowboat.
"No sound, but I can smell something peculiar. It must be them," Curly intoned in quiet excitement, anticipating their next move. "They must have been feasting on mutton stewed with turnips in those dark cauldrons."
Siren's Speak was a watchful bird trained to be silent unless addressed by name by Curly Grim and no one else. Like all Scarlet Macaws, she relied on her beauty as much as her limited ability to speak human words to influence those who gazed upon her. She had learned how to use a few words and a lot of screeching to manage those about her during her years of traveling with Curly Grim. They both knew screeching struck fear into the common people who believed banshees were casting about in the mist or the dark of night looking for children and lost sheep. The pirate found that it was an easy means to control and distract the superstitious local folk and plunder their wares after they scurried into their hiding places.
During the 25 years that preceded her injury, Siren's Speak had been a wild creature singing her natural songs with her flock in a forest near the shore of a land that would become known as northeastern South America. The tropical forest near the equator was filled with colorful, vibrant, beautiful creatures that drew the attention and adoration of both the native peoples and the newcomers from far across the salty ocean. Siren's Speak had been flying free among the trees with her flock when a net was launched into the air from a nearby roost. Nearly escaping the net, her left wing was caught briefly and snapped, sending her fluttering helplessly to the ground. Despite being the only one of her tiny squadron to escape entrapment in the net, her fate was the same as the other three screeching beauties. The pirates collected the feathered bounty in the net and searched for her on the ground.
Curly Grim found her and kept her for his own since the traders across the high sea preferred uninjured Scarlet Macaws. Curly cared for her as best he could, straightening and binding the wing with a splint as Swabby held her to prevent her from scratching or pecking Curly's eyes out. Being taken captive was a traumatic affair and she let them know it. Her screeching and squawking in protest and terror reminded Curly of sounds heard from the shore of a small island rumored to harbor sirens who lured ships and sailors to their deaths on hidden reefs in rough seas. That memory in mind, Curly began calling her Siren's Speak and the moniker held fast with Swabby and the rest of the scalawags among the crew.
They endured feast and famine during those ten years on the high seas. During three months stuck on an island near the northeast coast of South America, Curly Grim taught a few words to Siren's Speak. It was a laborious effort since the Scarlet Macaws are less adept at mimicking human sounds than other popular birds. The words draw attention and their beauty keeps the eyes of the beholders entranced. The past two years near Pirate Bird lake had brought more consistency to their lives. Wild game, berries, mushrooms, and vegetables were plentiful. The clean water of the lake was salvation itself. The pirates could keep it all to themselves if the local folk from the nearby valley could be kept at bay. As they did at sea, the pirates kept watch on the water and plundered all that came near. Striking during the dead of night and during misty mornings when the fog settled on the banks, they created the legend of a banshee seeking children's souls and stealing livestock at Pirate Bird lake and kept it alive with the help of Siren's Speak.
This morning would prove to be a fateful one for the small crew with Curly Grim, Swabby Teach, and Siren's Speak. The previous evening, one of the crew spotted smoke from a campfire across Pirate Bird lake. He climbed to the observation roost much like a crow's nest they had made in a tall tree across a small field of grasses from their secluded settlement of log and earth cabins with their spyglass. He saw a band of travelers from the valley pitching a camp of their own. As they had done many times before, the pirate crew planned a foray into the travelers' camp. The clouds slowly approaching from the west were in their favor. The pirates knew the heavy, damp air would settle around the lake and provide the cover they needed to approach the camp before the break of dawn.
They silently launched their boat to cross the lake using the few lonely stars visible far to the northeast as a guide. They lost sight of those stars as they entered the foggier zone in the middle of Pirate Bird lake and relied on their sea senses to guide them onward straight to the opposite bank.
"I can smell something peculiar," Curly repeated under his breath. "Move us forward at half speed and we'll land by the fallen Alder in the tall grass."
"Aye, sir," came the reply from Swabby as he gently moved the oars.
The rowboat came to rest in the damp earth below a fallen Alder tree and the crew quickly and quietly hauled it into the grass to secure it from going adrift. The small pirate crew assembled under the shelter of some tall grass and a branch of the fallen Alder to review their plan of attack and await first light.
As the first rays of Sol illuminated the foggy bank of the lake the sounds of local folk stirring nearby were carried through the thick morning blanket to the pirates. Curly nodded to Swabby and the crew crouched, ready to strike at the signal. Siren's Speak was perched on Curly's shoulder, anticipating his command.
"Curse them, Siren's Speak!" barked Curly Grim.
Siren's Speak launched from Curly's shoulder in a flurry of flapping feathers, gaining enough altitude to clear the top of the first tent she saw in the misty morning air. Screeching and squawking as she neared the camp, she deftly landed on the top of the roof of a wagon near the first tent. The injury limited her ability to fly, but the effect of her attack struck fear into the settlers. Siren's Speak then repeated the words taught to her by Curly Grim. "Children. Awwwk! Children." she squawked, sounding like a banshee on the loose. "Tasty Sheep," she continued. "Children! Children!" she screeched, louder than before.
The camp exploded in a flurry of action. The pirate crew started forth in a flurry of motion and noise.
"Attack!" came the command from Curly Grim.
"Arrrrrrgghh! Children! Children! Tasty Sheep! We will take all we can keep!" shrieked the pirate crew repeatedly as they ran to the camp. Their shrill cries added to the confusion and fear gripping the encamped folk, or so they thought.
As Siren's Speak struggled to fly to the top of a second tent, repeating her cries, a voice unknown to her and the pirate crew broke through the heavy mist.
"To arms and attack, kinsmen!" came the rally cry from the unknown chieftain. "They are upon us! Execute the plan, release the nets and skewer the scurvy scalawags who pretend to haunt our gentle lake's shore."
A loud cry of determination echoed across Pirate Bird lake as the local folk unleashed the traps they had set for the loathsome pirate crew and their legendary Scarlet Macaw. Chieftain O'Flynn and his scouts had scouted the area and spied the secluded lair of the pirates and learned of their antics. The beauty of Siren's Speak fascinated Chieftain O'Flynn and he was determined to reclaim the lake and possess the beautiful bird with the banshee voice.
As the nets fell and the pirates met their fates at the ends of the staffs of the local folk and Chieftain O'Flynn, a special mesh of vines was dropped from a tall Alder tree onto the second tent and Siren's Speak. The chieftain gently restrained Siren's Speak in his hands, admiring her beauty then held her over the bodies of the pirates. She knew her companion and his mates were hers no more, but she knew how to survive. The mist and fog had dissipated and the remains of the pirates were returned to their cabins and lit afire. Chieftain O'Flynn offered Siren's Speak his forearm and she gently gripped the leather wrap he used to protect it, accepting her newfound companion. With brilliant flashes of color, she flapped her wings to lift herself then settled her beautiful plumes as she gracefully perched herself upon his shoulder.
About the author
Raised in rural east-central Illinois, I appreciate nature and the environment. I'm a father, grandfather, professional engineer, leader, researcher, coach, scouts leader, stoic, minimalist, costumer, historian, traveler, and writer.