Chapter Fourteen: Tibo
The Happy Seal
Rolly landed a hand on the back of his neck and gave him a shake. “It’s only a few hours, Glent. Pull on your big boy wellies. Won’t be like we’re in open channel most of the time. We’ll be hugging the coast to Margate and then shoot right over to Ostend.”
“Or you could just shoot me now.” Tibo wondered if that wonderfully warm hand would stay on his neck if he kept complaining.
“Would solve a hornet’s nest of problems, wouldn’t it? But I’ve gotten attached to your short arse. More fool me.”
Rolly threw an arm around him and gave him a squeeze. Suddenly the cold, mist-laden post-midnight streets didn’t seem half as dark or miserable. Neither of them had much luggage, so at least they weren’t trying to negotiate suitcases down uneven sidewalks. Tibo huddled further into his long wool coat, all bundled up while Rolly, the freak, didn’t even need gloves.
“Hoy!” Rolly called out as they approached a frighteningly small fishing boat. “Eoin Ramsey! Captain, are you there!”
A deep voice barked out in response, “Hoy, there! If it isn’t that McFarland bastard’s youngest whelp!”
“I thought you said this was a friend?” Tibo whispered.
“Relax, Ti. It’ll come round right.” Rolly whispered back, then raised his voice again. “Can we come aboard, you rusty old pirate?”
“If you must, you must. And bring that little wharf rat with you.”
Tibo was still seething from the rat comment when they boarded via the shaking gangplank and a huge man with blue gray hair that clearly marked him as a selkie lifted Rolly off his feet in a bear hug. A storm of manly backslapping and laughter followed.
“Oh, it’s good to see you, young McFarland! It’s been a sea cow’s age, hasn’t it?” the old selkie captain said as he held Rolly at arm’s length. “And is this your goblin friend who wails well enough to make any banshee proud?”
“Don’t tell him that. His head’s big enough without it. Tibo, this is Captain Eoin of the Happy Seal. Eoin, this is Tibo Glent, the one and only.”
“You’re a wee lad, aren’t you?” The captain laughed and clapped Tibo on the shoulder hard enough to make him stagger. “Look bigger on stage. Ah, well. We’ll be underway in a tick, boys. Tibo, are you seaworthy?”
Tibo’s pride made him want to say of course he was, but the queasiness was already starting from the gentle swell at dockside. “No, sir. I’m about the opposite of seaworthy. Boats…aren’t my thing.”
“Not everyone’s born to it. No shame. You’re from earth folk, after all.” Eoin’s smile was kind enough, so Tibo didn’t feel too bad when he turned and bellowed, “Sean! Get our passenger secured!”
True to Rolly’s word, the first bit of the journey down to Margate wasn’t too horrid. The night was still and the Thames’ waves not much challenge for the speedy little fisher. But when they headed out into the Channel proper, the night grew darker, high winds whipping over the deck. Tibo was belted in on one of the chairs in the little wheelhouse with a bucket between his feet in case he got sick. He should’ve felt safe.
The waves looked like mountains to him. Each time the Happy Seal’s prow rose to more than thirty degrees and smacked back down, he was certain they were going to capsize and die. Rolly came in and out to offer hugs and to speak to him softly, but he never stayed long. The damn banshee was on deck, helping. He didn’t even look worried. No, fuck him. He looked like he was enjoying it.
The call went out about two hours into the trip, a bellow over the wind that caused Captain Eoin to turn the wheel sharply, making the deck and Tibo’s poor stomach lurch.
“Sea serpent off portside! She’s a whopper!”
“Oh, gods. We’re going to die and be eaten by a sea serpent and die again,” Tibo moaned, rocking fretfully.
“Ah, the channel serpents are mostly harmless,” Captain Eoin called back, selkie ears coming into play to hear Tibo’s soft complaints over the wind. “I’m still here, ain’t I?”
“Mostly harmless?” Tibo managed to lift his head, searching the black, roiling water. The darkness wasn’t a problem for him. The waves were another issue. He squinted and finally made out the back of something surfacing and diving through the peaks and valleys of water.
But as he looked, he realized it wasn’t just one hump rising and falling, it was several, and just as he was concluding that it was a pack of sea serpents, he realized it was one. One giant sea serpent with its great body making multiple humps as it swam with the storm. Tibo sat back and closed his eyes, swallowing hard against the rising nausea and sudden dizziness.
“Rolly! Come see to your friend! He’s fainting on us!”
Suddenly Rolly was at his elbow, and pride, life jacket and seatbelt be damned, Tibo clung to him. “Not fainting. Just…sea serpent…”
“We’ll be all right, Ti. Eoin understands the channel serpents. He’ll talk to this big sea jenny if he has to. Relax, relax.” Rolly held him and rocked him, humming bits of tunes Tibo recognized but was too scared to name.
The serpent paced them, but only reared her head above the waves to examine their boat once before she sank back under the waves.
When Ostend hove into sight in the gray light of predawn, Tibo had never been so happy to see land.