"There's nobody left," said High Lord Bandaleer. "You're our last hope."
"What do you mean, there's nobody left? Out of His Majesty's armada?" asked Captain Juniper.
"That's correct. The wretched fishmen have decimated the entire fleet."
"The Juggernaut? The Island-Wrecker? The Hurricane?"
"All gone. The Juggernaut was torn into splinters by the rending tentacles of one of the wretched fishmen's monsters. A fishmen wizard created a waterspout that sucked the Island-Wrecker down into a vortex that reached the sea floor. Underwater fishmen punched holes in the hold of the Hurricane."
"What, with drills?"
"No, with the volatile sacks off of the explosive squid."
"They were all mighty ships! The finest timber, harvested from the Driftwood Forest! The finest sails, woven from the pure fibers of Windspun reeds! Crewed by men who were born in the bosom of the sea! I've heard the tales of their deeds."
The High Lord Bandaleer nodded. "And you are our final hope. You and the Fulminous Guppy are all that stand between us and the wretched fishmen."
"The Fulminous Guppy has a single cannon, and Wenceslaus has used it to store our limes for some time now."
"Oh, you are not going to fight the fishmen!" the High Lord Bandaleer said. "You are to sail under a flag of surrender!"
"The fishmen have demanded surrender."
"And the king is giving in?" Captain Juniper said.
"We must. Our fleet has been destroyed. I would not ask the Fulminous Guppy to do this except that it is literally the last ship available. I've seen its condition."
Captain Juniper straightened her tunic. "Well, it's not that bad," she said. "It cleans up well."
"Please don't clean it before you sail. It looks as though if you scraped off the barnacles then the ship would simply float apart."
The High Lord Bandaleer pushed a scroll across to Captain Juniper. "Go and tell your crew that you must sail at once."
"We have one delivery to make before we can take the surrender to the wretched fishmen."
The High Lord shook his head. "You won't have anybody to sell to if this surrender doesn't go through immediately. Fly the flag of surrender high and clear, as if you fail then we won't have an opportunity to parlay before they've landed and are cutting heads off of shoulders."
Captain Juniper left the High Lord's palace and walked down to the docks, which were completely empty. Confused seagulls clustered together, unable to find food for themselves. The churn of commerce had supported them for countless generations and they'd lost their ability to find food otherwise. It was as quiet as the watery tomb where most of the sailors now dwelled.
"Ahoy there, mates!" Captain Juniper called out as she boarded the Fulminous Guppy. High Lord Bandaleer didn't give them enough credit. Sure, the barnacles were an important part of the hull, and their sails had more patches than a pair of fourth-hand britches, and the mast had been blown apart by such a quantity of improbable lightning strikes that more than one academy had a mathematics course about the ship, but for all its flaws the Fulminous Guppy's hull was mostly waterproof. And besides, they had Arnold down below with a pump.
"Where is everybody?" Captain Juniper called. She went down a ladder to below-decks. Her five mates were all asleep.
"Get up! Get up, you itchy sea rashes!" she said, giving them all a bit of a kicking. "We've got to set sail."
Arnold, a brute of a man with more contusions than an infirmary, sat up and rubbed his eyes with knuckles like knots on a tree. It was a good thing that he had two glass eyes. Captain Juniper had mostly gotten used to the noise, but it certainly wasn't something that you could sleep through. The skin-wrinkling squeal woke the rest of the crew.
"I thought the shipment didn't go until tomorrow," asked a grey-haired man.
"We're not doing the shipment, you lot of briny dogs," Captain Juniper said. "It's on hold. We've got to take a surrender notice to the wretched fishmen."
"What wretched fishmen?" asked Arnold.
"Do you not talk to people in port?" asked the grey-haired man. "The king's at war with them."
"I prefer to read when I'm not clearing the hold," said Arnold. "And what about our delivery for the perfumer? The scents tend to break down the longer they're in transit."
"Arnold, you scummy bucket of chum, the king's armada has been destroyed. We're the only sea-worthy ship left," she said, challenging any of them to argue with the adjective. Nobody dared. They knew how much Captain Juniper loved the Fulminous Guppy.
"Right, so we've been given a message to deliver to the fishmen and the perfumer can take it up with the king. Onward, you bits of shrimp offal."
The crew, despite their many and complex shortcomings, worked like a reasonably-oiled machine. They were soon underway. High Lord Bandaleer had told them to travel to the east and land on Doom Island.
Within a few hours the flotsam of battle began to thud against the hull of the Fulminous Guppy. Captain Juniper briefly considered hauling some of the more intact pieces of wood aboard since they were in better condition than many aspects of the Fulminous Guppy, but she had a job to fulfill.
Soon they found Doom Island. As they sailed closer, an armada of wretched fishmen ships sailed from beyond the other side of the Island. The mid-day sun shone off of the scale-like armor cladding, in blue and green and coral. No sails were flown, for the wretched fishmen distrusted gaseous oxygen, and below were many tethered sea-beasts that dragged the ships to and fro. They ran low in the water. Between the armor and the angle of attack, no wonder the king's armada had succumbed.
The ships formed a ring around the Fulminous Guppy as it continued towards a beach on Doom Island. Captain Juniper and Arnold disembarked. Several fishmen climbed off of their ship and approached them on the beach.
"Whoa," Arnold said. "What a terrible smell. I want to go back on the ship where the leaky crates for the perfumer masked that awful stench."
"Sshh," Captain Juniper said.
A large fishman walked up to Captain Juniper and bowed. He had a copper apparatus wrapped around his neck that must have supplied water for his gills.
"Are you the representative of the king?" the fishman croaked.
"Yes, I am Captain Juniper of the Fulminous Guppy. And you?"
"Admiral Gukglork of the Mighty Icthydroat Empire. Has your king tired of the invasion?"
"Yes, we're offering a surrender."
"A surrender?" Admiral Gukglork sounded surprised. "Why would he surrender?"
"Because you've destroyed our armada."
"Yes, but that is because they've been attempting to steal from our pearl fields and eating our young. It is your king who has invaded us."
"Your king has invaded us. You do not surrender as the aggressor, you simply withdraw. We have no interest in invading - what would we do with a whole lot of useless land?"
"I don't know. Here, one of our High Lords told me to give this to you."
Captain Juniper handed Admiral Gukglork the scroll. He read it over, his bulging fish eyes flicking back and forth.
"This isn't a declaration of surrender. It is a magical scroll that will GET DOWN," Admiral Gukglork said, hitting the sand. Instinctively the rest dove down as well as Admiral Gukglork threw the scroll into the water.
It erupted with a thud and an enormous column of water reached into the sky, taking bits of the Fulminous Guppy with it. Their cargo floated in the water. At least, the cargo that hadn't been blown all over the party on the beach.
"Your king, it appears, knows nothing of proper procedures!" Admiral Gukglork said. A bit of refined oil of lemon balm ran down Admiral Gukglork's face and onto his breathing apparatus.
"What is this?"
"It was our cargo. Supplies for a perfumer."
"It smells...wonderful. You probably assume that the smell of fish doesn't bother fish, but rest assured that it does."
Captain Juniper was nothing but a shrewd businesswoman whose skills couldn't be practiced on an abandoned beach.
"Help us finish the delivery and we'll give you a cut of the cargo."
"It's a deal."
The Moral: It always pays to smell good.