Elsie Lockheart leant against the gunwale of her schooner, elbow resting on the smooth dark wood, chin resting in her hand. With her other hand, she absentmindedly twisted a wild curl of her salt and pepper hair, loose from her thick braids. Her grey eyes stared straight into the pre-dawn darkness of the night at open ocean, but her thoughts weren’t on the eerily quiet shadow of the waves, though she watched them. Instead, it mulled over the past, and the future.
Today was her last day in this life. When the moon crossed the sigil star, signalling midnight, she’d be passing to the realm beyond.
Elsie fiddled with an old gold bracelet—the source of her last days. A year ago tomorrow, she and her crew had raided a treasure hoard belonging to an ancient queen. Being captain, she’d had the glory of kicking open the first and largest of the treasure chests, closest to the sarcophagus of the queen, and had the glory of taking the full hit of the curse that had seeped out of it. When the strange mist had faded and she was certain she’d still been alive, the crew had gathered around her, pushing and shoving until they were squeezed as close as physically possible, to all hear what a parchment on the top of the chest had said, ears straining to listen to her shaking voice as she read aloud.
Death in one year hence. Only an act of true love could break her curse.
She’d scoffed, but the crew—bless her sweet crew—had all tried to persuade her (then and every day since) to try to find her true love and break the curse.
“Bah,” she’d said then and every day since. She was a captain of a fine pirate crew, and had tasted freedom for every day of her life since she’d set foot on a ship. She wasn’t going to abandon that to live on land like a landlubber and become some timid wife, just for the sake of living a little longer.
If a year was all she had, she’d live it free, and she’d life it with her crew, on the best of adventures.
Elsie and her first mate and scoured sources for all the best treasure hoards and adventures, mapping out the routes that would take them on as many as they could fit into a year.
“Forget true love. I’ll give you all an adventure you’ll never forget!” She’d told them the night after she’d been cursed, crashing down maps upon maps on the deck planks. She’d knelt right there and spread them out, calling her crew to gather about as she pointed out each route they’d take.
She grinned as she saw their faces light up in awe and excitement, and she felt her heart soar.
A year to fit in as many adventures as they could.
They’d sailed to the rainforests of the west and trundled through deep greens, climbing old stone ruins in search for Aztec emeralds. Then, they’d sailed north and watched the herds of buffalo, hearing the roaring of the earth as they ran in the biggest mass of heaving beast they’d ever seen. Next, even further north to spy on the ice-folk, their pale, nearly translucent tails powering them through the icy waters, glossy thick skin and hair that frosted over as soon as they rose above the freezing waters, raising their webbed hands towards the moon and stars.
Now, Elsie smiled, remembering their other adventures and the riches they’d found. The night was giving way to day, and the first dregs of blue light were bleeding into the black sky. She turned to look at the night’s watchman yawning, eager for the next rotation to wake up and take his place. She felt a sad twinge. Her crew had gathered up a good wealth in their year of adventures, enough to easily cover life without her whatever they chose to do next. She could die resting easy that she’d done her best by them, at least financially.
But of course she felt sad for leaving them.
Not the one for emotional dramatics, Elsie tucked that wild curl behind her ear and stomped over the deck down to the warmth of the galley, wanting to talk to the chef about her last hurrah.
Her last night on earth.
Wanting to make it special, she’d asked for a feast on deck, with songs and tales and plenty of meat and drink as they watched the most spectacular natural show on earth—the winter northern lights.
A northern bird from birth, Elsie felt at home each time they sailed to the northern continent. It only felt right to die here.
The daylight came and their ship dropped anchor just off the coast. They spent the day preparing the deck for her final moment: cleaning the ship, washing down the deck, making it gleam. Blankets came out and thick coats and furs were laid out and worn. A small fire started in the fire bowl, and warm alcohol was passed out. Celebrations began early as soon as chores were done, and for once, Elsie didn’t chastise the crew for their early merriment.
Today was for fun and memory.
Meat had never tasted so good, and cheeks were red from laughter and rum. The chef had pulled out all the stops, and he collapsed in a heap on the deck amongst laughter as the crew fed him and brought him spirits as reward.
Elsie never knew she could laugh so much, her sides felt like they’d split.
Not even Hastings getting so drunk she challenged everyone to a men v women belching contest could ruin Elsie’s good mood.
And then, the lights started, and everyone fell quiet and lay on the deck in a bunch in awed silence, staring at the lights. Blue and pink and green and yellow and purple like the smoothest silk cloth from over the world being tossed about above in a dance.
“Captain?” As the lights faded from the sky.
Elsie hummed back in response.
She watched as her crew lazily propped themselves up, too drunk and tired to stand. She was too.
“Eh,” she forced herself to sit up, and she smiled about her at the faces peering through the firelight. Else thought about the year with them and grinned. “I’m getting old. I’ve had a good life. It ain’t no surprise—you can see the grey hairs coming on my head. And half of them are from you all, ya ugly bunch!”
They snickered, and someone toasted to it, making everyone else join in.
Else waited again until they were all hushed and looking at her once again.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s been a good life, and this year’s been the best of it. A fine way to go.
You’ve been a treat, and I can’t thank you all enough for stickin with me through it all.” She sighed. “I do love you all—peg legs, glass eyeballs, smelly breath, stormy times, and all.”
When the drinking died down, they all looked up at the sky. The moon was reaching the sigil star.
“I’ll see you all again, in the next life. I hope this year’s been a lesson to live your best life until then.”
Hastings launched herself in a snotty wail at her captain, crashing Elsie into her furs on the deck floor. It signalled the rest of the crew to pile in around them, and Elsie let out a chuckle as the ugliest ragtag bunch of pirates that scared the breeches off any sane sailor piled around like litte children.
“Oh you all …”
The held her arm up, looking at the damn cursed bracelet one last time, accepting her fate as she lay amongst those she adored best. She was ready.
The bracelet broke, crashing falling in pieces about them. She turned her face against the pieces just in time.
A mist lifted over the ship, and the last of the flames died out, leaving them in the weak moonlight.
So this is the end.
The moon passed the sigil star, and her last moment came. But when the moon trailed past, Elsie was still lying there, waiting. Blinking as the mist dissipated. Breathing.