AS I WATCH, a rainbow appears. Not in the clear skies above, but spanning the distance between my ship and hers. It glitters in the air, and smells faintly of patchouli. The fairies applaud gleefully, tiptoeing across the multi-coloured bridge and singing sickly sweet songs about unicorns and teddy bears.
‘You may cross.’ SB sweeps her hand in front of her.
I narrow my eyes. Kaleidoscopic and shimmering with fairy dust it may be, but I’ve been on the edge of one too many gangplanks in my time to trust anyone.
‘Come now, don’t be such a big sissy.’ The fairies cascade into giggling laughter at SB’s words. I feel my scalp turn scarlet, the scornful eyes of my men at my back. I peer down over the side of The Fickle Muse, scanning the waters for any stray ticking crocodiles. Only clear water, shoals of annoyingly perky fish tumbling in a needlessly-complex choreographed aquatic ballet below.
I step out, cursing the sun which rose upon this day. Far above, Pan sits cross-legged on the topmast of the Kingdom galleon, snickering to himself. I make a vow to myself to pin his shadow to his backside with a rusty harpoon, then continue across the glittering bridge, ignoring the chirruping fairies flitting about my face.
‘There,’ says SB, sitting back down on her throne. The subservient dwarves groan, taking the strain on their backs. ‘That wasn’t so bad now, was it?’
She’s a handsome woman, I have to admit. Long golden hair, tumbling down across pale white shoulders. Blue eyes which sparkle like the Caribbean seas, lips as red as a chest brimming with rubies. Dark rings under her eyes spoil the overall effect, but then I suppose that’s what happens after you’ve been asleep for over a hundred years.
‘You need my help?’ I try to keep the incredulity from my voice, but my sceptical tone betrays me. ‘Me. Captain Hook, Scourge of the Seven Seas?’
‘The most feared – and most effective – pirate the world has ever known.’ SB nods. ‘Yes, I require your assistance.’
‘But I am not under your rule.’ I puff out my chest and twirl my moustache. ‘I am a privateer, a free agent.’
‘Exactly.’ She smiles beguilingly. I feel her power, strong as any siren. ‘You are able to operate … under the radar, so to speak.’
I find myself wanting to please her. ‘One of my many skills, m’lady. Now, what is it you require of me?’
Her throne lurches to one side as one of the dwarves beneath her collapses. She gives him a sharp kick with one of her bejewelled shoes and shakes her head. I don’t fancy the poor little mite’s chances when she gets back to port, that’s for sure.
‘You will be familiar with the Lost Boys?’ she asks.
‘Of course, m’lady. A slovenly group of hooligans if ever there was one.’ I cough. ‘Though I understand they are on your side?’
‘That’s the thing.’ She flicks a wayward fairy off her shoulder like a flake of dandruff. ‘They’ve gone rogue. Set themselves up as a pirate band, in neutral waters outside our jurisdiction.’
‘Troublesome, I would imagine, but is it really a matter of regal importance? Besides, they earned their name for a reason – they’ll be sailing round in circles for months. I’m sure they’ll not cause any real trouble.’
‘I’m afraid they already have.’ Her face darkens like a typhoon on the horizon. ‘They have kidnapped someone very precious to me, and are holding her to ransom.’
‘I see. And you want me to return her, whoever it is?’
‘Indeed I do. For they have absconded with the Little Mermaid.’
‘She still lives? I had heard she was turned into a shower of sea foam.’
‘That was the ending we wanted the world to believe. No, she still lives. And not only that, she still has the Foresight.’
‘She has the power to tell the future?’
‘Since her run-in with the sea witch, yes. The potion she drank imbued her with many powers, the ability to peer into the mysteries of what is to be foremost amongst them. She was one of my most trusted advisers.’ She kicks an innocent dwarf in indignation. ‘And now she’s gone.’
‘And stolen by a group of unruly teenagers.’
‘Yes, it is most tiresome. They have already used her powers to find at least three lots of buried treasure.’
She has my interest now. ‘What? That’s my job!’
‘As I have heard, yes. You are quite the loot-seeker, by all accounts.’ She smiles coquettishly. I feel my moustache bristle with pride. ‘Which is why I ask you to help me now. Rescue the Little Mermaid and I shall be in your debt.’
‘Which would translate to what, exactly?’ Once a pirate, always a pirate …
‘Riches beyond your wildest imaginings. A pirate cove to call your own.’ She lowers her voice to a promissory whisper. ‘And a full pardon.’
‘I would no longer be hunted by your leads and heroes?’
‘Indeed not. I imagine you find the attention rather tiresome?’
I hold up my hook. ‘An understatement, m’lady.’ I imagine it. The freedom to roam the seas, without fear of a bilge-hook up my barge. ‘Very well. We have a deal. I shall return the Little Mermaid to you, safe and sound.’
‘Excellent.’ She claps her hands, accidentally squishing an unwary fairy. She wipes her hands on the back of one of the dwarves and continues. ‘There is one other thing. I’m afraid I cannot have you acting alone, given your reputation. You will be working in partnership with someone.’
‘Who?’ My heart sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
‘Someone you know very well.’
She looks up, shielding her eyes from the blistering sun. ‘Oh, Peter,’ she calls. ‘Would you come down now please?’
I groan, and look around for the nearest gangplank to fling myself off…