They all knew Cap'n Barnacle Bellweather, who spluttered and spat and cursed and laughed as he chased his mates all through the tavern, overturning tables and glasses as he went.
Left alone there in the doorway, gazing around the room, Nicolas could scarcely believe his eyes.
Men with pictures on their skin! Men with one eye and one arm, and with rings through their ears and their noses! Women with their torn skirts hitched up over their scarred thighs, and thick black cigars clenched between their stained teeth!
And the maps! Every available surface was littered with them, maps of every conceivable inch of the unknown; maps to treasure, the boy would subsequently learn. But even now they seemed to have yielded up their fruits of search quite literally, piled high as they were with all the illicit cargo that found its way into the tavern via the deep pockets and quick hands and tempers of the pirates who drank at its tables and often slept in its dark corners. Everywhere there were piles of spice and remnants of silk, heaps of ivory and ebony and mother of pearl, and mountains of exotic tropical fruits unheard of to anyone who hadn't spent a lifetime crossing and re-crossing the open seas...sweet hairy rambutans and lychees, pawpaws and pine nuts and mangosteens, figs and dates from the desert, kelps and hiziki from the sea, and from the mountains a sour apple with the dry scaly skin of a snake.
Despite his involvement in his own games, Captain Bellweather had not forgotten the boy.
"Ladies an' pirates," he announced, smashing a glass against a tabletop to get their attention, "might I be introducin' to you this misfortunate pilgrim of your yer own youth truly, now come ta tell us of 'is woes o' searchin', come to add 'is own page to the book o' the quest." (R. Nemo Hill)