“So there really was a ghost on your ship?” Sabra set a dainty teacup and saucer
in front of Captain Hale, then filled it with steaming amber tea.
Captain Hale shifted slightly, and the spindly chair underneath him groaned in protest. “Yes, unfortunately. It would seem I have to break some sort of curse in order to get rid of the bas– ah, the uninvited guest.”
Sabra tucked a stray curl of black hair behind her ear and sat at the table across from him, and her gray eyes met his. Captain Hale had to remind himself, very firmly, to focus.
“I don’t see how I can help you, Captain Hale. I don’t know anything about curses.”
“Actually, I think you can. Or at least, your grandmother can. You see, like your grandmother, this ghost assumed I was Corsan. Any idea why that might be?”
Sabra’s brow furrowed slightly and she sipped at her tea. “I’m not sure, Captain Hale. Maybe because you’re the captain of a pirate ship, like my grandfather was?”
Hale doubted that was the case, but somehow he couldn’t find reason to argue with Sabra. “Please, call me Rylan. And that’s a distinct possibility, but it still doesn’t get the ghost off my ship.” You’re an idiot, Hale. Pull yourself together.
Sabra smiled softly and set her teacup down with a soft clink. “Very well, Rylan. I think I have an idea. My Gran kept some of my grandfather’s old things. I’ll go get them; maybe something in there will give us a clue as to how to rid you of your phantom.” She stood from the table and slipped into another room. Captain Hale watched her go, then sighed heavily when she was out of sight. Then silently berated himself for acting like a schoolboy.
Footsteps sounded from the hall and Captain Hale sat up straight in his chair, but it was only Sabra’s grandmother tottering into the room. Neela seemed to take no notice of him, just ambled around the room softly humming to herself. Sabra appeared in the doorway a moment later carrying a small chest.
“Here,” she said, setting the chest on the table. “Feel free to look while I get Gran some tea.”
Hale pried the rusted metal clasp on the chest open and lifted the lid; the hinges shrieked from years of neglect. Inside was a random assortment of objects: seashells, gold and silver coins, loose papers. Hale lifted a stack of papers from the chest and rifled through them. There were a couple of old manifests and crew logs, nothing that really caught Hale’s attention, until he spotted what appeared to be a letter, dated nearly 70 years ago. His eyes quickly scanned the letter, and suddenly details started to snap into place.
“Does the name Morgan Trask mean anything to you, by chance?” Hale looked over at Sabra, who was currently busy balancing a cup and saucer in her hand while ushering Neela into a chair.
“My grandfather’s first mate. They were best friends. Why? Did you find something?”
Neela eased into her chair, now singing softly to herself.
Hale glanced back down at the letter still clutched in his hand. “Maybe. But even if I’m correct I still don’t know…” Hale grew still, his gaze fixed on Neela as she sang.
“From the north the sea winds blow, North to the Jagged Teeth they go, The Siren’s Song one did know, While the other knew only woe. From the north the sea winds sigh, Around the Jagged Teeth they fly, But then the waves tossed too high,
And both were cursed to never die.”
“So that’s it,” Hale whispered as a chill ran the length of his spine and the hairs on his arms stood up. He went to place the papers back in the chest when his gaze snapped to a portrait sitting on top of the scattered items. Sea-gray eyes stared at him from above a tangled mane of black beard, and Hale knew at once he’d seen Corsan before.
Or his head, at least.
“I still don’t understand why we’re taking a rowboat C aptain. Couldn’t we have hired a bigger boat?” Henry Bosan tugged on the oars, his face screwed up in a scowl. Captain Hale, standing at the front of the little boat with one foot up on the prow, rolled his eyes skyward.
“I’m a captain H enry. Hiring out another boat while we have a perfectly good one would injure my pride.”
“But the Teeth are dangerous, Captain. What if we get caught in a tide and get smashed between the rocks?”
Hale sighed heavily and turned to glower at his first mate. “Well I suppose you’d better steer carefully then, Henry.”
The wind howled around them, tearing at Hale’s coat and sending cold spray up to hit him in the face. Hale just squinted his eyes against the stinging salt water and wind and scanned the horizon while Henry coaxed their boat around the rocks known as “The Teeth.”
The boat dipped precariously as Henry hauled on the oars, narrowly avoiding one of the Teeth. When the ship righted itself, Hale saw what he’d been looking for.
“Henry! Aim for the shore over there!”
A groan came from behind him. “You mean the one with an eerie green glow?” “Yes, Henry. We’re trying to get a ghost off my ship – did you expect kittens? Rainbows maybe?”
Henry guided the boat to shore, and the bow scraped onto the deserted, rocky beach. Hale jumped from the boat and pulled it the rest of the way onto the rocks, careful to keep his footing on the slippery rocks below him.
Hale glanced up at Henry, who was making a strangled noise in the back of his throat. Henry’s face was deathly pale in the moonlight; his eyes were riveted to a point over Hale’s shoulder, and he lifted a shaking finger to point.
Hale turned, his heart hammering against his ribs. High on a hill stood a figure; bathed in the eerie green glow Hale saw from the boat, the figure was holding a lantern aloft. The ghost – for Hale was sure it was a ghost – had no head.
“Hello Corsan,” Hale whispered.
The ghost lifted a hand and beckoned to Hale, then disappeared down the other side of the hill.
“Captain. Don’t tell me you’re about to follow that thing?”
Hale took a deep breath. “Yes, Henry, I believe I am. Stay here with the boat. If I don’t happen to return, I leave all my worldly goods to your mother.”
Hale marched up the beach, leaving a dumbstruck Henry behind. He followed the light from the specter’s lantern deeper into the island until it finally came to a stop. The ghost held its lantern up, bathing a nearby tree in sickly green light, and pointed.
Leaning against the tree was a skeleton missing its skull.
“Ah,” Hale said. “Your body, I presume. And what exactly am I supposed to do now?”
The ghost of Corsan remained, still pointing at its skeleton.
Captain Hale sighed. “Look, I’m sorry you are dead and all, but your first mate’s ghost is running around my ship. Any chance you had something to do with it?”
The ghost didn’t move. Hale nearly screamed in frustration.
“Are you the one that cursed Morgan? Look, I get it. Good help is hard to find. But I need to remove the curse and get his spectral carcass off my ship.”
The ghost lowered its lantern and patted its chest, right over where its heart would have been, then pointed back at the skeleton.
Hale frowned. “You want me to check your body?”
The ghost leaned forward slightly, in what Hale assumed was a sign of assent. Hale cautiously approached the skeleton; most of the clothing had long since rotted away, but parts of what looked like a leather vest still clung to the bones in ragged tatters. Hale squinted at the skeleton’s chest; a piece of leather clinging to the ribs right above where Corsan’s heart should have been had a perfect, round hole punched through it.
“You were shot,” Hale said. He turned back to Corsan’s ghost. “Morgan?”
The ghost bowed forward again.
Hale rocked back on his heels, thinking. “So your first mate betrayed you, which is why I assume you’re still hanging around. But why is Morgan’s ghost still lingering? Who cursed him? You?”
Corsan’s ghost raised a pointed finger again and lifted his lantern higher. Hale looked back at the skeleton and noticed something glinting from within the bones. A gold chain hung around the skeleton’s neck, and whatever was on the end of it had slipped underneath the sternum.
Hale gingerly lifted the chain over the remaining neck bones. It was a locket. Hale pried it open; inside was a portrait of a woman with a halo of auburn hair framing her face and the deepest blue eyes that seemed to pierce Hale to his soul. Neela.
He closed the locket with a soft snick and glanced at Corsan’s ghost. “I’ll take your bones to the sea, Captain,” he said gently. “And I’ll tell her what happened.”
A soft breeze rustled the leaves above Hale, carrying the briny smell of the ocean with it. The ghost bowed from the waist, then disappeared as the wind carried him away in wisps.
Captain Hale found Sabra and her grandmother walking the cliffs near the shore.
Sabra smiled when she saw him, and Hale’s knees became noticeably weaker. He clutched the locket more tightly in his fist and forced himself to keep walking.
“Rylan! Have you made any progress with your ghost?”
Hale smiled at her. “Yes, I believe I’ll have things straightened out soon. May I have a word with your grandmother? Alone?”
Sabra frowned slightly. “Alone? I don’t know how well Gran will understand…”
Hale opened his mouth to insist, but Neela reached up and patted Sabra’s cheek. “It’s fine, dear. I feel quite clear today.”
Sabra still looked unsure, but she finally nodded and looked at Hale. “Will you bring her to the Albatross when you’re finished? We were going to get some lunch.”
Hale placed his hand over his heart. “On my honor.”
Sabra gave him a slight smile and made her way back along the path toward town.
Neela turned and watched her go. She remained still, even when she surely heard the click of the hammer on Hale’s pistol.
“How long have you suspected?” Neela’s voice was clear, no hint of confusion or the creaks of old age.
“After I read Corsan’s letter to you. At first, I didn’t understand. No pirate in his right mind would give up a life at sea. But then your song confirmed my suspicions.”
Neela turned to face him then, and the smile on her face nearly made Hale’s blood run cold. He gripped the pistol until his knuckles turned white.
“The song was a bit heavy-handed, wasn’t it?” She glanced cooly at the pistol, the smile never leaving her face. “You really don’t plan to shoot me, do you Captain Hale?”
Hale almost lowered the gun; it was as if an outside force was compelling him to drop it. His hand shook.
“Give me one good reason not to. I’m a pirate – your kind have killed sailors for eons.”
Her blue eyes hardened, darkening to the near-black of the deep ocean churning in a storm. “I’ve only ever killed one man in my life, Captain Hale. And believe me when I say he deserved it.”
She nodded, her eyes still dangerous. “He killed my Corsan. He and my husband left together, and only he returned. I don’t know why Morgan killed him, but it didn’t matter.” She paused, seemingly daring Hale to disagree with her. “I sang to him, Captain Hale. I sang his fate into existence – that he would never rest until I found my Corsan – and it drove him mad. He drowned himself in Candlekeep harbor to escape my song.”
Hale could feel his resolve waver slightly. “Why didn’t you look for Corsan’s body? His soul, and Morgan’s, have been lingering here for decades. Why not put them to rest?”
For the first time the smile wavered. “You don’t know much about my kind, do you Captain Hale? I’m bound here, to Candlekeep – I cannot leave the shore. A siren may lure as many sailors to her island as she wishes, but she cannot leave it. It is our curse – to forever feel the call to the sea, but never be able to sail it.”
Neela’s voice was so filled with sadness and longing, Hale lowered the pistol, but kept it in his hand. He held out the locket.
“I found Corsan,” he said gently. “I returned his bones to the sea.”
Neela cradled the locket in her hands and squeezed her eyes shut. “Thank you,” she whispered. She fixed Hale with her blue eyes again. “Morgan Trask will no longer haunt your ship. My Corsan is at rest, so Morgan is also.”
Hale inclined his head. But one more question burned in his mind.
“Why was Corsan giving up his ship? Did you sing to him, too? Convince him to stay on land with you?”
Neela’s eyes glittered and she arched an eyebrow. “Believe it or not, Captain Hale, I loved Corsan. And he loved me. I never sang to him, not once.” She paused, and gazed out to sea. “Corsan loved the sea. I understood that when I agreed to marry him.”
Neela smiled sadly. “I told him I was pregnant.”
Hale’s mind drifted, unbidden, to Sabra. Her gray eyes and easy smile, and for a moment, Hale thought he understood.
Hale quietly slipped his pistol back in his waistband and he and Neela stood silently, both gazing out to sea. Eventually Neela’s hand slipped into the crook of his elbow, and without a word they turned and walked down the path.