Jaquery Tattery was born at sea, and he grew up in a town far from the sea, and all he wanted to do was return to the sea.
Jaquery, who was called Jack by everyone but his mother, was the youngest of three children. He had an older brother and an older sister. According to the custom of their people, the oldest children could choose to and were encouraged to strike out into the world on their own, to establish new trades, to travel the realm, or to pursue scholarship. In such ways would older children expand the name and renown of their family. And according to the custom of their people, the youngest child was required to learn and mind the family trade, unless an older child claimed the right (which was rare).
Neither Jack’s older brother nor his older sister claimed the right to work at or manage their family’s trade, for they had aspirations of their own. Both left their home town when they came of age, and went off to find their fortunes and destinies.
The Tatterys were tailors who started working in town with a humble business of repairing and refreshing old clothes, and soon expanded to fine tailoring of clothes and tapestries. Jack learned the trade of sewing and tailoring from a young age, as his brother and sister had been required to do before they set out on their own. He knew he would one day mind the family business. Jack was proud of his family’s trade and their shop, and he admired what his parents had built, but so did he admire their courage in coming to a new land to build a new life. He had never gone on any such adventure, and feared he never would.
Still, he dreamed. He boasted to friend, family, and fellow townsfolk alike that even if he was an old man when he did it, he would return to the sea and he would adventure there until the end of his days. And he didn’t just dream. He prepared. He learned to swim in a small lake near his town. He learned about the parts of a ship and how the crew worked together. He learned about famous captains and imagined approaching one to ask if he could join their crew. He didn’t want to be a captain himself. When he was younger, he dreamt of being the lookout who first spotted a new land. But later, he envisioned himself as a pilot, heroically steering his ship and crew out of the dangerous grasp of sea monsters. He even built a wagon with a ship’s wheel, so he could practice steering.
His parents, particularly his mother, never wanted to see the sea again, for Jack was born at sea in the midst of a terrible storm. They remembered their fear that they would die and their children would die and their baby would never take a single breath in the air of the world. His mother said that she prayed to the storm-bringing spirits, and begged them to let her child be born, and to spare him and all the other children aboard even if everyone else was drowned. As it was, no lives were lost on that voyage. But his mother would take no more chances upon the sea.
Before that voyage, she too had loved the sea, and had dreamed of living near the sea, and going on many voyages to distant lands. She still loved to travel and did so often for their trade, but she stayed on land, and would do so till the end of her days. Small lakes and pools would appease any lingering longing she had to be in and upon the waters of the world. So she was sympathetic to her son’s dream, even though she feared for him. When he reached his thirteenth year, his mother gave him the best gift she had yet given.
“I will make a bargain with you, son,” she said. “If you care for our shop and hold to our particular standards of quality and artistry, then you will take over all traveling to distant markets. And as we have reached as far as we can go over land—without moving from our home in this town—we must travel over the sea. And as neither your father nor I desire to travel over the sea, that task will fall upon you.”
Jack was so astonished, he coughed up a bit of his birthday sweetbread. He had heard his parents speak of expanding their trade to famed markets in other lands over the sea, including even their native land. But they had always spoken of hiring a trusted proxy.
He made the bargain with his mother, even knowing it would be years before he would be skilled enough in selling their goods and old enough to be taken seriously by prospective new customers.
And he continued to dream. Whenever the storm season came, he thanked the storm spirits for sparing the lives of all those aboard the ship where he was born. He asked them if they did so because he had some special purpose to fulfill, and he asked if they would reveal that purpose to him. The storm spirits were silent, but Jack always answered the question himself. For he had already chosen a purpose for his life.
Soon after the day that Jack made his birthday bargain with his mother, a woman entered their shop and made an unusual request. The woman, though quite young, claimed to be the captain of a humble vessel docked in an eastern port.
“My name is Rill,” the woman said, bowing deeply to Jack and his mother. “For the past year, I have been asking ever innkeeper, captain, merchant, and mayor I meet a question. Who are the best tailors in the realm? I have heard many names spoken, but only one was spoken by all. Your name.”
“I am Val Tattery,” Jack’s mother said. “We are honored to be so highly regarded by so many. How may we be of service to you, Captain?”
“I understand that your business now is in fine clothing and tapestries, but one of the captains I spoke to had gotten his sails repaired by a Tattery over ten years past. Those sails have never torn or ripped in all that time, despite rough sailing. I had thought perhaps it was enchantment, but he said it was great skill.”
“So you need your sails repaired then?” Jack’s mother asked.
Captain Rill tilted her head as she fiddled with a bolt of cloth. “At the moment, that is not what I need.”
Jack could not help but to stare at Captain Rill. He longed to speak with her about her life on the sea, but his mother sent him to deliver a bundle of shirts while she determined why the sea captain had sought them out.
When he returned, his mother sat him down and told him that Captain Rill had given them a job, and his mother wanted Jack to do it. Before the smile finished blooming on his face, his mother held up a finger as if in warning.
“This is not the true job, son.” She narrowed her eyes. “She did not ask us to repair her ship’s sails.”
“What do you mean?”
“This is a test. High praise of our name brought her to our shop. But before she trusts us to make what she truly needs made, she must examine the quality of our work and judge for herself whether or not we are up to the true task.”
“And the true task is repairing her sails?” Jack thought repairing some sails sounded far simpler than making a good coat.
Jack’s mother grinned. “Make the finest coat you can for our dear captain, and we will find out.”
Captain Rill had left her old tattered coat behind and asked that Val Tattery make her a new coat, according to her specific instructions, a coat that would hold up well on her next adventure. Jack’s mother had offered Jack’s skill in place of her own.
She did worry the captain would object and say that Jack was too young. But while Captain Rill was a bit surprised, she agreed to the deal and left her instructions and the first part of her payment.
“You are ready, Jack,” his mother said. “And if she gives us the job of repairing her ship’s sails, you will do that job as well. But that will be more serious than a coat. The lives of all the crew will depend upon the sturdiness of the sails you stitch.”
So Jack made the coat, a long coat the color of midnight descending over twilight, with pockets a-plenty, crests embroidered on each arm, and made to keep the wearer warm when the weather was cold and cool when the weather was warm. Even though he’d been sewing and tailoring since he could hold a needle steady without sticking himself, his fingers were sore and his hands were cramped by the time he was done with the coat. By his measure, it was the best job he’d ever done. He almost regretted handing it over to the captain. But he did, and she marveled at it and told him it was the finest coat she’d ever seen. She almost didn’t want to wear it out to sea.
But she did wear it out of the Tattery shop, and she said she would return in one month. And so she did. When she walked back into their shop, one would have guessed that Captain Rill had put the coat away somewhere safe for the past month, and had only taken it out to wear upon her return to the shop. She beamed as she sauntered in. But Jack noticed a thread out of place on the coat’s left shoulder. He feared that one thread would end his chance to do any more jobs for the captain. But when he pointed it out, Captain Rill merely pulled the thread away, and he saw that it was a stray thread from some other piece of clothing. Jack’s coat had held up well, almost magically so, for it was not dirty or salt-worn, even though the captain had been wearing it every day for the past month.
“I have another job for you,” Captain Rill said, glancing between Val Tattery and Jack Tattery.
As she had promised, Jack’s mother gave the job to him.
Captain Rill told Jack that she needed for him to fashion all new sails for her ship. For three days she came to the shop and sat and spoke with Jack and explained every detail of the task ahead.
When she was done, she asked him how long it would take for him to make the sails. Would he need a year, perhaps two? The sails would have to be light enough for a small crew to handle, but strong enough to withstand the harshest storms and seas in the world. They also had to be fitting for different occasions: ornate on fancy events, fierce when encountering pirates, plain when docking in humble seaports.
Jack longed for the opportunity to learn and to bask in the honor of making sails for an adventure vessel. Knowing he was risking his chance, he gave the captain his honest answer.
“Captain, it will take me five years to make your sails. I have never made sails before. I want one year to learn and practice. One year to gather the best materials. One year to make the sails and make them strong. One year to stitch the embellishments. And one year to check every part of every sail to make sure that I have made them as you have asked me to make them.”
He expected the captain to balk, or ask that he do the job more quickly, or ask that he obtain help from his mother and father, or just take her request elsewhere. But she agreed to his timeline.
“I have much to learn as well,” she said, “and knowledge to gather before I make use of the sails in the way that I hope to use them.”
And with that mysterious remark, she left.
Jack’s skill improved over time, but even with quicker and cleverer hands, and greater knowledge of sewing and tailoring, particularly the sewing of sails, he needed all the time he had asked for. If his skill had not improved, he would have needed even more time. Perhaps even a few more years. He did not need to use all of the money that the captain had granted for the purchase of supplies. She had been generous in that regard. He sent her word of his progress every now and then, and received word back, sometimes right away, sometimes after a great delay. She would say that she was pleased the work was progressing, and she looked forward to seeing it when it was done. On occasion, she would tell him that her coat was still faring well.
As Jack cut and crafted and stitched, he studied the sails and tried to work out Captain Rill’s reason for each particular detail. The cloth and the thread she had requested was rare and expensive. In fact, Jack’s mother had insisted that he write back to the captain to ask if he could use a substitute, for she’d heard of the material that some called “spiritsilk” and told him it was a myth. But Jack asked if he could have a chance to find it first. And find it, he did, spending his first year and half the money the captain had granted him on the purchase of the so-called spiritsilk. It was feather-light but so strong that he could not cut it with scissors made of steel. He had to use a knife with a silver blade. And Captain Rill had insisted he use only needles of pure silver. He had thought her insistence had some ceremonial reason, but he found that only pure silver could pierce the spiritsilk.
In the embellishments he has been asked to embroider, there were incantations of protection for sailors and passengers of the vessel. There were spells entreating and invoking the spirits of the seas, of the storms, of the stars, and any other spirits who might govern the life of a sailor. Some of the scenes he stitched were stories about undersea kings and empresses of the depths, and the glow of life beyond the darkness of the deep. Jack knew many stories about the sea, but he was unfamiliar with many of the scenes he had been asked to stitch. Some were adventurous and romantic, and made him long for the sea. But some were horrific, scenes of monsters in the deep and the ghosts of those who had drowned at sea.
When Captain Rill returned after five years, Jack had grown into a young man, and the captain, while still young herself had grown wiser and more knowledgeable. Though she had always seemed patient and even-tempered to Jack, she seemed even moreso upon her return. She had been bold before, when she strode into their shop asking for a new coat and again asking for new sails. Now, her demeanor was calm and unassuming.
Jack held his breath as she examined the sails he had made. She seemed to be searching, not for flaws, but for all the special embroidery and embellishment that she had asked for. Ancient symbols of protection for sailors. Family crests of her crew members. Threads that would shift colors depending on the amount and quality of the light.
Jack had done other work during those five years, work that helped him improve his general skill, and work that helped him practice and hone skills he need in the creation of those sails. But since he’d made that coat for the captain, he had never created a work that he was as proud of, and that was as best a representation of his ability. His mother had told him that the sails were well done, better than she could have done them. But her expression belied her mild words. Her wide eyes had shimmered as she gazed at the sails. And all that day, she had raised her chin and puffed up her chest whenever a customer would come in and ask how Jack was doing.
“He’s doing well,” she would say. “Very well indeed.”
Jack had been proud and delighted at his mother’s praise. But when the captain’s eyes grew narrow and wide, when her lips began to rise into a smile, and when she finally laughed in amazement and gratitude, Jack was humbled, and he blushed and dropped his gaze.
That same evening, Captain Rill treated Jack and his parents to a hearty meal, and thanked Jack again for his work. The next morning, when she came into their shop, Jack tried to return the money that he had not used for the purchase of materials or not counted toward the cost of his labor. But the captain was so pleased that she insisted he keep all of it. And she told him that he would need it if he agreed to her next offer.
Her eyes seemed to twinkle, and she raised a brow in an expression that seemed to be teasing and challenging at once.
“I have already spoken with your parents, though you will likely do so as well if you accept my offer.” Captain Rill reached into one of the many pockets of her coat and pulled out a small roll of parchment. She handed it to Jack. “Jaquery Tattery, I would like for you to join my crew, at least for one adventure, so you can see what your sails look like when they are installed, and when the ship is at sea. After all the work you have done, and superb work at that, you deserve this reward, if you wish to accept it.”
Jack was stunned, too stunned to respond. But the captain said that she would be in town for another few days, waiting for the sails to be properly packed, so she could take them east to the nearest port town, where her ship was docked.
Jack’s mother confirmed at dinner that night that she and his father had agreed to the captain’s offer. After all those years of working on the sails, Jack deserved to see them and to fulfill his dream of being at sea.
A few days later, Jack left his town with the captain and the sails on a wagon headed east. He had traveled to seaside towns before, and gazed out at the ships, dreaming of the day that he would sail to some distant land to offer the services of his family trade. The captain had allowed him to bring a few bolts of cloth and a tailor’s kit (to which he had added his sailmaking tools). She told him that they would be gone a while, several months, perhaps even a year, before they returned to Jack’s home.
Jack’s mother had given him a gift before he left, a coat that she and his father had been making for him the past year. She revealed to him that his reward was her idea. It was she who had suggested it to Captain Rill when first the captain had given them the job of making the sails.
On the inside of the storm-grey coat, she had sewn four disparate buttons that looked somewhat familiar to Jack. She told him that each button was from an item of clothing that she, his father, his brother, and his sister had worn. Her button had an extra meaning, for it was the same one that Jack had torn off the cuff of her dress when he was a toddler. He’d done so on a stormy day, a day on which according to their custom, the spirits that guided his life were supposed to reveal his destiny. When he tore off the button, his father joked that it meant he would not be following their trade.
And yet, Jack had followed his family’s trade. He had fulfilled his duty as the youngest child. And was prepared to fulfill it still even as he fulfilled his own vision.
Jack had never been aboard a ship before. He savored each step he took up the gangplank toward the main deck. A gust of air struck him with the salt smell of the sea. His chest swelled as he inhaled it. Crew members passed by him, throwing back casual greetings.
One of them, a woman who was perhaps a decade older than his own mother, stopped and walked beside him. She introduced herself as the ship’s pilot and told him that Captain Rill had mentioned his interest in ship’s pilots.
As the ship left port and moved toward the open sea, Jack watched the sails unfurl. They were magnificent. In the bright light of the full sun, the embroidery shimmered in soft colors that matched the colors of the sky and the sea. The ship was a small vessel, especially in comparison to the great merchant ships, but the sails made it appear majestic.
As Jack glanced back at the dock, he noticed that many people were stopping to marvel at the ship and the sails. Feeling both honored and embarrassed, Jack turned away.
The captain approached and greeted him. She informed him that he was the only passenger on board at the moment.
“Are you ready to go where you have never been before?” she asked as they watched the crew adjust the sails.
“I’ve gone to many places where I’ve never been before, Captain. But not upon the sea, I must admit.”
“I too have gone to many places where I’ve never been before, upon both land and sea,” the captain said. She grinned. “But with those sails of yours, I am hoping we can travel beyond our lands and seas.”
“What do you mean?”
She pointed to the headsail. Jack had embroidered it with images of waters filled with merpeople. “Perhaps the spells on your sails will let us dive down to their kingdom.”
Jack raised his brows. “Do you truly believe that can be so?” He gazed at the sails. “I had thought you’d asked me to embroider these legendary voyages and adventures to inspire you and the crew.”
“They are indeed inspiring. And we will have an adventure either way. Our present course will take us to the land you came from, or rather where you family came from. Where your mother, father, brother, and sister were born. But not you.” She tilted her head in a sideways bow. “Where I come from, it’s considered good luck to have someone aboard who was born at sea.”
“I don’t know if I will bring you good luck, Captain,” Jack said. “But I do bring you good skill.” With that, he took a spare length of cord and tied it into a bowline.
The ship tilted a bit as it coursed further out to sea. Jack felt his balance shift as well, even as he was struck with a mist of saltwater. He threw out his hands to steady himself. He let out a breath as he succeeded in keeping on his feet.
The captain laughed. She slapped a hand on his shoulder, and said, “Welcome aboard, tailor.”
Copyright © 2019 Nila L. Patel