The new flagship for the Royal Navy pulled from its moorings. Crusty Admiral Crank stood on the poop deck in order to survey the activities of the sailors under his immediate command. To his right stood Queen Pirouette and to his left, le comte des Deux Chats, GarGar. The blessings of calm seas and low breeze meant that most of the crew were required to sit at the oars. That put most of the men below deck.
During the reign of Pirouette’s predecessor, slaves operated the galleys. The first act that came from the Queen’s hand upon her accession was to abolish the detestable institution; therefore, the rowers were all volunteers. The emancipation of tens of thousands of human chattel was immensely popular with the majority of her subjects (with the exception of the nobles, who with the wave of her dainty, royal hand had lost millions.) Jealous of her power and eternally suspicious of the nobility, Pirouette’s mind constantly turned on ways to weaken the upper classes.
“Let’s go below,” said GarGar cheerily. “I don’t think you’ve ever gone down there, my love. Have you?”
“No,” answered Pirouette. “I’ve been told that the smell is unbearable.”
“That was in the old days,” said GarGar. “Things are completely different nowadays.”
So down they went. As they descended the steps, the first thing Pirouette perceived was the time keeper with his big kettledrum. The grunts and groans of the men, along with the thump-thump-thump of the drum, created a hellish symphony. The first lieutenant roamed up and down the central aisle, his ceremonial whip hanging uselessly from his belt, bouncing against his thigh. From his expression, he appeared more than ready to use it. Catching the Queen in his flinty eyes, he immediately fell to his knees. The timekeeper stopped drumming. An audible sigh rose from the sweaty ranks as they folded their calloused and blistered hands into their laps.
With the exception of the First Lieutenant, all of the sailors below deck were stripped to the waist. For the first time in her life, the Queen saw a tattoo. It was on the shoulder of the burly timekeeper. Made entirely of blue ink, the design featured a mermaid with her scaly tail wrapped around an anchor. Six inches tall and four inches wide, it was impossible to miss. With so much room in which to work, the artist succeeded in fashioning a beautiful face for the ocean nymph. Unseen and imaginary forces below the surface of the sea caused her hair to split into numerous locks. With both hands, she held a trident, normally the sole property of Poseidon.