Kaari Kalu

Written by Addie Barnett
Art by Bobkehl

The light of the candle flickers in the soft breeze of the sea and I have to stop myself from running my finger through it. Too many times have I burned myself this way; I should stop before making any real damage. A pirate with no arm is like a ship with no helm–sooner or later they will sink, and they will drag everyone else alongside them.

I stare at the stump which used to be my leg, even now feeling a dull pain as if it had just been cut off. The Royal Navy had finally found our secret hiding spot and we barely made it out with our lives. Some of us lost a limb, others left good friends behind. I exhale slowly, grateful none of my “friends” had been taken in. Ours is a lonely venture, despite all the talk of camaraderie. It wasn’t only once that I woke up to a comrade trying to slit my throat at midnight, thinking I was fast asleep. My stump pulses as I remember the day I lost my leg, as if it were searching for the missing piece. Sometimes walking hurt more than I cared to admit, sometimes I could barely get out of bed. I also had good days when I almost forgot I had a wooden leg. If my comrades wouldn’t constantly remind me and if it wouldn’t thump as I walked, maybe I would feel whole.

The slender figure of Kaari Kalu, the matriarch of pirates, glares at me from behind the candle. I spit inside the spit-pot, smiling at the clink my phlegm makes when it hits copper. Sometimes I wonder what the Matriarch would do if she were in my position. Would she flaunt her sword left and right, challenge an ignorant man to attempt to overthrow her and laugh as he died? Would she show them her scars, cleverly hidden behind a hallucinating pattern of tattoos etched into her bronze skin? Kaari could kill with one blow; she wouldn’t even need to drop her bottle of rum or spit out her cigar. She watches me with the same arrogance, her amber eyes alight with a fire which can never be mine. I tried being Kaari and I failed. She was one of a kind.

How dare you taint the name of Kaari Kalu? She seemed to ask me. You’re pathetic.

I stand up from my bed and peer at Kaari. A plume of some rises from her ever-burning cigar and in the dimness of my chamber, her golden earring-hoops shimmer and seem to morph into human skulls. My hand reaches towards the candle and I hesitate–there is only one path for me to take and it hasn’t worked before. There is no reason for it to work now. But in a world of men, a woman must learn to hold her own; Kaari herself had taught me that. Fortuna favors only the bold.

So, I strap on my wooden prosthetic and cradle the candle against my chest as I trudge around in circles around the room, listening to my wooden leg thump rhythmically against the floorboards, matching the tempo of my chant to it.

“Kaari Kalu,” I hiss, glancing at her scowl, “mother of pirates, thieves and cutthroats. I ask you to guide my path and protect me in my plunders. Where I go, your sword shall cut through my enemies like the morning sun pierces the darkness of the night; wherever I step, wait for me with a bottle of rum and a cigar. Kaari Kalu, I call upon you, so that you may lend me your strength. In this dark hour, you are my only ally.”

The soft breeze picks up and snuffs out my candle. I swear as my wooden leg snags on one of my discarded jackets–I can never be bothered to clean up after myself and I tumble to the floor, yelping. The portrait falls to the floor with me and it’s crystal window shatters into a million pieces, some of them crawling under my skin. I bite my tongue, lest I scream again and stay on the floor, struggling to breathe the pain away. When my blurry vision begins to return, the candle flickers back to light, illuminating the figure of a hunched woman. Two studded boots lead to a pair of tight-fitting pants and above them, a tattooed arm picks up the portrait. I crane my neck further and stare at two amber eyes glaring at me.

Kaari Kalu is scowling as if this is the last place she wants to be.

“You’re pathetic.”