A Letter From Charlie
Questions about the Quest? Here’s a sample letter from Charlie to a boy named Ben. (Note that Ben is 8 years old. The reading level can be adjusted for older children.)
The Rascal Queen
Somewhere on the Ocean
I’m back to write some more. So much has happened, and it’s all so strange. I’m excited that I get to write to you about it! It’s good to have a friend.
I think back to the last time I wrote to you, the beginning of all this strangeness, when I saw the mast of the ship glowing in the darkness. It seems such a long time ago! I crept along the wharf to the little rowboat. No one was there, nobody saw me. I stepped into the boat. Then I was floating free on the starry waves.
I’d never rowed a boat before. I rocked about in the boat trying to get steady, then took the oars and pushed them through the water. Crash! I went backwards straight into the side of a little fishing boat. I held my breath.
A voice shouted, “What in blithering blazes is going on out there?”
“Sorry!” I shouted back. “Really, really sorry! Everything’s okay!”
“Ah, ye feckless fool,” grumbled the voice, then everything was quiet again.
I got the hang of it after a bit. The moon had not risen yet and the stars were glimmery and dim. I rowed out towards the dark ship. The rowboat slipped sweetly up to the ship’s side, where painted letters stretched out above me: “The Rascal Queen.” Then a rope ladder came tumbling down from the railing up on the deck, as if the ship was welcoming me.
I tied the little boat carefully to the lowest rung, and climbed up onto the deck.
The mast was still glowing.
Two sailors were sitting on the steps going up to the deck above. They were playing cards. An oil lamp flickered. They sat in its circle of yellow light and dealt their cards. I slipped behind an upside-down lifeboat and tried not to breathe. They were talking, I could hear them. I had to make sure they couldn’t hear ME.
“Shut up about that prophecy, Fytte,” said one. “It’s naught but hocus pocus, and you know it.”
“And aren’t we all, then? There’s not much more to this ship than myth and moonshine, truth be told,” a growly voice replied. “But the Captain thinks there’s meaning to it, and I’m with the Captain.”
“Well, so am I, if our course is set for gold,” said the first. “But what are we doing here? Dawdling around in a harbor, not even allowed ashore for a bit of fun. What kind of life is that for a pirate?”
Pirate? Sweat pricked out on the back of my neck. This was a pirate ship?
“Oh Canto, Canto me mate,” said Fytte’s growly voice. “There’ll be gold in plenty for sure, and all. But first we need the child.”
“Good luck with that,” snapped Canto, “And that’s four aces, see? I win again.”
“Curse these cards,” said Fytte. “I’m not touching them again. They’re against me, and that’s the honest truth.”
Canto laughed, and then said, “Hey, there’s no need –”
There was a slithering thud and playing cards slid past the lifeboat and came to rest all around me. I froze – did someone throw them? What if they came after them? But there was no sound of footsteps and I breathed again.
I could see the opening of a hatch and stairs leading down below. There was an orange glow, like a lantern burning down there. I could hear voices and people laughing. It sounded like someone was playing a fiddle.
The mast was still calling to me. It was strange how the men playing cards didn’t notice. How could I get to it without being seen? I had to hide until the coast was clear.
I crept under the lifeboat. It was dark and sheltered under there. There were playing cards scattered everywhere. No one seemed to want them, so I picked them up and put them in my pocket. An old sailcloth was bundled up under the boat. I curled up on it to wait.
The ship lifted and swayed as waves passed beneath the keel. I was on board a ship! Me! A flood of excitement went through me, but I lay there quietly feeling the movement of the sea. Before long I fell asleep.
When I woke up, everything was silent except for the quiet slapping of small waves against the ship’s side. There was a bright light streaming in under the side of the boat. I crawled out. The whole deck was lit up with dazzling silver. The mast shone like it was made out of moonlight, only a hundred times brighter. It hurt to look at it. The two sailors were asleep, rolled in blankets on the deck, snoring gently.
I walked towards the mast. I could hear my name clearly, over and over. “Charlie. Charlie. Charlie.” But not with my ears, if you can understand that. It’s like I could hear it with my blood.
I walked right up to the mast. I was scared, but also not scared. I don’t know how to explain it. I put my hand out and touched the shining wood. For a single second it shone brighter than ever. Then all that light emptied out of the mast, into me. For a moment I felt it glow inside me, my whole self shining, lighting up the ship. Then it faded, the glow died down and everything went dark.
A bell rang, again and again. In a flash I ran to the rope ladder. It wasn’t there! I looked over the side, and the little boat was gone. What could I do? I hid under the lifeboat again in a panic. There were footsteps, and rough voices called out, “Sleeping on your watch again, Fytte?”
Someone said sleepily, “There’s no threat here, Epos. Who cares if we get a bit of rest?”
There was a laugh. “No time for rest now. Eight bells! You know the Cap’n’s orders. We wait here no longer. There’s no child here. Weigh anchor, men! You, Fytte! Canto! Get down below with the others and run out the sweeps. The Queen will leave harbor under oar.”
A slight tremor ran through the ship and I felt her move under me. We were in motion. She was leaving harbor and I was leaving with her. I peeped out from under the side of the boat. Lanterns were being lit and hung from the ship’s railings. Sailors moved back and forth across the deck. I saw their feet passing inches from my face. I heard their voices calling instructions, orders, and jokes as they worked.
Then came a shout: “Raise the mainsails!”
The sun was coming up. It was morning. The sails unfurled, and we headed out to the open sea with a following wind. I poked my head out from under the boat and saw a big sailor with a red headscarf run a flag up the foremast. It unfurled and flapped on the wind.
A skull and crossbones. The Jolly Roger.
It really is a pirate ship, Ben. And I have stowed away. I didn’t mean to, but what difference does that make? I am a stowaway on a pirate ship. What will they do if they find me?
I’ll write again when I can, Ben. I’m kind of scared, but excited too. It’s an adventure, on a ship, on the open sea. It’s what I’ve always wanted!
But pirates. Yikes.
I’m sending you the cards I picked up. Pirate cards! Weird thing – the design on them is horses’ heads, kind of like a chess knight. Like the chess piece Oliver gave me. Coincidence is a funny thing.