How to Be a Pirate (You will be remembered, my dear)
- If it is the ocean that sings to you, or the
thrill of Aztec treasure, or other kingdom’s riches, know that you cannot go
back. Once you set sail, the saltwater will haunt you even if you retire to a
desert. There will never be enough golden coins or golden islands that will
satisfy you. The life of a pirate is a thirsting life, and it is common knowledge
that saltwater does not quench.
- Kiss your mother and father’s graves goodbye
before you set sail. If the ocean will not be your grave, the gallows are too
far from the churchyard to comfort your spirit. Keep your farewells frugal.
Better yet, disappear without a word. Legends are not borne out of nostalgia.
- Turn a blind eye to the third mate whose hair is
bunched into their hat and keeps their chest wrapped tightly under their
bleached tunic. Her hands may be small, but they will build callouses just like
yours once she scrubs the deck long enough. Bad luck is not the fault of a
stowaway woman, and the storms are not her doing—after all, the crew had thrown
Jonah into the sea to calm it. You’d be better off watching out for the storm
that is the woman. She will put you to shame when she sets fire to your enemies
to fight tooth and nail for the freedom she earned.
- Treat a mermaid gently if one accidentally gets
tangled in your fishing net—comb the hooks out of his hair and don’t curse if he
bites your fingers. Offer him your hat to shield his eyes from the sun and
answer his questions when he asks in panic why his fingers are wrinkling. If
you must chuckle, try to do so silently, so that he does not think are laughing
at him. Mermaids are born singers—their egos are easily bruised.
- When a man goes overboard in the midst of a
storm, throw the rope to him. If he cannot cling onto it, lower yourself in a
rowboat to help him from the bobbing waves. But remember to never jump in after
him, if he turns away and rides the waves into the deep. Do not blame yourself.
You could hold your breath forever and still cannot rescue a drowning man who
swims away from a lifesaver.
- Whistle while you work. The songs that your
mother used to sing you to sleep with are not a curse just because it is from
the past. And melodic tales about purple mountains and golden cornfields will
stun your mermaid guest—he will ask you again and again how fast horses run,
and how do flowers smell like. He will test your patience, but even pirates
enjoy basking in Scheherazade’s glory. We all like to be heard other times than
when we’re shouting orders.
- There is little use in envying your legendary
predecessors. Madame Ching and Blackbeard’s skin peeled under the sun just like
yours. Legends never feel like legends when their shoulders ache.
- You will lose your hand along the way. Some lose
their eye, others their foot, others aren’t as lucky and lose their hope. It is
all part of chasing the impossible. When the time comes—and it will come, when
you are least prepared—there is no shame in weeping. There will never be enough
saltwater. Let your mermaid guest dress your wound and see your tears. He will
miss your tender palms, and you will miss that sense of safety. But let him
treat you; his fingers are nimble and cool to the touch.
- When he sings to you the songs of his world and
people, do not be overwhelmed—there will always be a part of the ocean that you
will never see. The greatest pirates will never know what lies beneath their
hull. Most hurl a mermaid out of their sight for fear of deception, and never
lit a candle for him to see a dancing flame for the first time, cautioning him
to keep his hands to themselves.
- Keep your plank short and sturdy—no one wants to
walk to their death with shaky knees. No captain can avoid a mutiny, but that
does not mean that you did not do something wrong. Which is why without a
doubt, when your second mate plunges blindfolded into the sea, your heart will
sink right down with him. But a captain is expected to root out betrayal and
never betray themselves. Careful—if you catch yourself calling him name when
you call all hands on deck, your crew might suspect that you regret it.
- Buried gold can afford bejeweled, decadent hooks
for where your hand had once been. The richest of pirates can afford hooks of
pure gold and a diamond cuff whose reflection can almost replace the spark in
your dulled eyes. But they will only ever be hooks, and your mermaid will gasp
in pain every time you cut his skin, even if you try to be gentle. He knows
that you can’t help it, but don’t get cross if he shies away from you when you
come too close. Mermaids are not quite used to love which makes them bleed.
- Pirates are not heroes. They kill in order to
avoid the gallows. They maroon rather than forgive. All who sail past you will
assume the worst of you, and point their cannons at your sails without
consideration. It may be easier to live up to their expectations and take up
your sword. It is far more exhausting fighting for your nobility.
- Your mermaid guest cannot stay for long. The sun
scorches his skin, shrivels his scales, cracks his voice. The explosions of
your ship’s cannons and your musket rounds piercing the Royal Navy shake him to
their core. You can beg all you want, but your hook only hurts him when you try
to hold on to him. He will wait until it is nighttime to quietly throw himself
overboard. Two of your mates will hold you back from diving after him. They
know that they could not save you if you did.
- Do not be alarmed when you find yourself under
the starlight missing home. Any captain of a loyal crew will be desperately
lonely when sailing alone in the wide, treacherous expanse that is one’s own
head. I’m afraid, however, that it is too late now to turn back. Your lost
hand, or cold, nimble fingers would not be there home waiting for you even if
- Understand that you will never be remembered.
Even if your name is emblazoned with fear in every queen’s heart, even if the
tales of your terror make every captain shudder. They will not remember the
songs you hummed under the moonlight. They will not remember your careful
fingers loosening hooks from their hair. Legends are not borne out of love.