“What be yu’r name, rat?”
“That be no name, that be yu’r duty.”
“It was the name I was given, sir, when I climbed on board not but a fortnight ago.”
“Well then, ye shall be given a new name. One so brave and fine as ya’self deserves a proper name.”
Chapter One: A Fortnight Ago,
Match-Rat, as he was then called, was handed a matchbox pack. The rough surface rubbed uncomfortably against his fur and the strap was much too big for him, causing even more discomfort as it rubbed against his tail when he walked.
Match-Rat stared up at the strange candle men as they pushed him out of his home and into the night. Their faces were carved and molded to reveal deep eyes and big lips which made them all appear to scowl. Their eyebrows, mustaches, and beards were formed from drops of wax which literally seemed to drip from their chins and face. Match-Rat had never seen anything like them before, but the fire which burned at the top of their heads is what scared him the most. He could have counted the number of times he had seen a flame on one paw. Now the flicker of candlelight from these men surrounded him.
They had found him hiding in a little hole that was hidden behind a stack of books, which again was hidden from view by the shadows of an empty bookshelf. But, the candle pirates, as they were known as, with their bright balls of flame resting atop their heads, found his little hole.
When the candle pirates ushered Match-Rat from his home they took him out into the night to the edge of land and there he saw something so very peculiar. There were lights not two hundred yards out from the shore. They seemed to float amongst the darkness. He could make out twenty flickering lights; much like the candle’s around him. The light from the pirate at the front of their pack revealed they were nearing the Wax’s edge; walking out into the sea. It was then that Match-Rat first spoke since they awoke him. It was as if the fear of the wax was more frightening than the fear of his captors.
“No no no, we cannot go out to the wax. It is nearing dawn, see!” he said.
He saw the first reddish glow of dawn appearing near the horizon. “The sun will rise soon and melt the sea in which we will surely drown.” He said, but the pirates did not seem to hear.
Match-Rat guessed they did not understand his cries or simply did not have ears to hear him. Again, he pleaded “Please dear sirs, do not take me out into the wax.” He tried to turn and run, but they held him and carried him onwards. It was then he realized they must intend to drown him purposefully. He tried to twist his way free of their grip. He bit into one of the pirate’s hands, but only managed to leave a bad taste in his mouth. The candle pirate didn’t appear to feel a thing.
They reached the wax and began to traverse its frozen waves. Match-Rat had never been more afraid. He looked and saw that the sun had climbed higher over the horizon. A few minutes now and they would be basked in its fiery light. Once that happened it was only a matter of time before they sunk beneath the waves. Then, as the light from the morning rays began to spread across the land, Match-Rat saw a great big wooden… thing resting atop the great Sea of Wax. It had a large wooden pole jutting from the center which stuck straight up and lofted up a great white cloth which billowed in the wind. There were other balls of light, other candle pirates, walking about and fidgeting with ropes. It was a ship, which no one, not even a rat living by the sea, had ever heard of before. A candle pirate heaved a rope ladder over the edge to pirates running along the ever heating wax. One by one the candle pirate began to climb. Match-Rat felt himself being pushed toward the ladder. He began to climb and made his way to the deck. He leaped on the boards and looked around bewildered to see that the pirates were all running below deck. Before Match-Rat could ask what was happening, the last candle had closed the hatch and he was left alone on the deck as the sun beat down on the bewildered little head.
He was so awestruck that he didn’t know what else to do other than stand there. It was a long while before he plucked up the courage to sniff around.
The deck was roughly polished with a droplet of wax here and there that was quickly turning into a gooey pile. It was one of these piles that he stepped into and upon feeling the burn of the molten liquid let out a shrill squeak. He leaped and grabbed onto a rope that led up to the mast. Doing this caused the end of the rope to become untied and soon he was swinging with the mast as the wind swung it in a wide arc. Match- Rat held on for dear life as the mast dragged him out and over the sun melted sea. Then the mast heaved him back around toward the deck and he landed hard on the quarterdeck, breathing fast.
“Well I see you are taking to your duties like a grasshopper jumps into a web,” a voice behind him said.
Match-Rat leaped up and landed in another wax puddle which resulted in yet another shrill squeak from the poor rat.
Then he heard the voice laugh deeply and say “You best watch your step. That’s what we call candle fodder.” He said with another hearty laugh.
Match-Rat saw at the far end of the quarter-deck was a roofed hut which housed a very wide and short candle pirate. The roof sheltered him from the sun and had a door which he could close if ever the ship faced the rising or setting sun. The door was open and he peered out at Match-Rat with a humored grin, waiting.
Match-Rat simply stood, still shaken by the strange and ever stranger circumstances he found himself in.
“Can you speak, Rat?” The pirate said.
“Y-yes, sir.” He said as though he were a mouse.
“Good, because I am sure you have a few questions. Unfortunately, I haven’t the time for all of them. So I am going to let you ask one question, but make it a good one. For I am sure you will find the answers to the smaller ones will come in time.”
Match-Rat thought very hard. He didn’t know why, but he felt an urgency to prove himself to this man. He wanted to make his first question count. He thought he might ask ‘who are you people?’ or ‘what is this thing we stand on that floats above the wax?’, but he checked himself and figured that those would be answered in time. What was really praying on his mind would probably be answered, but he needed to know.
“Why did you bring me here?” he asked.
“Bad question. You will learn soon enough. Want to try again?”
“What is your name?” Match-Rat tried.
“Better.” He answered, “Rosey, can you guess why?”
Match-Rat was going to say that it had something to do with his red wax form which his flame melted into a bright pink, but Rosey blurted out “Because my Papa and Mama wanted a girl. Can you imagine that? They were incredibly disappointed!” he laughed again. Match-Rat couldn’t help but feel his heart lightened by the candle’s good and cheerful nature.
Thus, began Match-Rat’s training as a sailor of the mighty Fire Ship under the tutelage of Rosey, a man who grew to the liking of Match-Rat’s tenacity.
Match-Rat took to his duties well. And soon, as Rosey pointed out, learned the answers to many of his questions.
He learned the reason the pirates needed him. It turns out, because of the heat of the sun which melts all wax it touches they are only able to sail at night. Without anyone tending to the sails during the day and keeping an eye on the tides the ship often veered off course and led them astray. Their solution was obtaining a helping hand to guide the ship during the day and someone to wake them up at night so they can take over. This was Match-Rat’s duty.
Upon waking, Match-Rat would first scrape the candle fodder off the deck and, following Rosey’s instruction, would dump it into the sea. “There is a part of the sea in each pirate on this ship. In this way, we can return it and become a part of the sea ourselves.” Rosey had said to him. This chore turned out to be his least favorite.
Then Match-Rat would tie the sail off and tend to the rigging. Before long he was proficient in various knots, including the bowline, figure 8, square, and the various hitches.
Rosey would often sit him down and explain the intricacies of sailing. He learned how to navigate the sea using a compass and map along with some tools he had never heard of such as an Octant and Astrolabe.
When the sun starts to descend below the horizon, Match-rat’s final duty of the day is waking the pirates. Using the matchbox they had provided, he would strike a light once the sun set and one by one raise the pirates from slumber by touching the flame to the wick.
Then finally, he would have time to rest. The first few nights were hard for Match-Rat. Oftentimes, he would be so exhausted physically and mentally that he would find himself starved of cheese and sleep; however, as he became accustomed to his new life he would wake up early and see the pirates at work in the night.
It was on one of these early morning excursions that he met Griffin, the bellower; a behemoth wax Gollum whose fiery breath heats the metal underbelly of the ship. With this heat and the wind, the ship was able to skip, skim, and slice through the frozen sea.
It never occurred to Match-Rat that there must be someone in charge, a Captain. He had been aboard the ship for just over a week and had never seen Captain Marek; that was until one day when Match-Rat was waking up the crew when upon a sudden he heard Rosey’s voice cry out from the main deck.
“Match-Rat, get your sorry tail up on deck!”
Not knowing what was the matter, Match-Rat quickly lept of the stairs and through the hatch to the deck. A few of the candle pirates stared at him as he scuttled over to Rosey’s Hut.
“Yes, sir?” Match-Rat said hesitantly; for Rosey had a grudgeful expression on his face.
“What be the meaning of this?” A voice behind him said. Match-Rat turned and saw a very tall candle with a mighty beard. He wore two swords on his belt and had a fierce complexion that resonated with menace. Match-Rat had never seen him before. He was not one of the crew Match-Rat had been charged with waking every night. He held in his hand a lump of half-eaten cheese.
Match-Rat didn’t know what to say. He had eaten more than his rationed amount, true, but he had no idea he was forbidden to do so.
“We have stocked this for yu’r benefit and ye break into your reserves to nibble off some more, huh? There don’t be an unlimited supply of this. Ye don’t get more till we reach land.” The man said.
“I was hungry sir, the work yesterday was hard,” Ma30tch-Rat protested.
“Don’t give these sorts of excuses to yu’r captain, rat! If I see you stealin’ again, I’ll take you straight back to land and leave you for another who can perform their duties without making excuses.” The captain growled.
Just then the wind blew hard and rocked the boat. Match-Rat heard one of the crew cry out “The mast’s come loose!”. Match-Rat saw the pirates duck their heads, but he was not fast enough; the mast whipped around and the foot of it crashed into him carrying him over the rail and into the Wax Sea.
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