“But ser,” broke in one of the deckpaws. “The greatest jewel in the world is said to be guarded by the fearsome kraken, as tall as the queen’s castle with tentacles longer than ten vessels nose to tail!”
“Which is why, m’dear, we not be partakin’ of the flesh of the inkton,” Cinrak explained. “Kraken’s cousins have proven intelligent and good friends of Rodentkind. Friends not be eatin’ friends. The mer archives tell us, yes, once beasts of Kraken’s size did exist. It be not our place to tempt The Depth’s wrath.”
The entire crew undulated two digits in a v shape of warding.
– “Search for the Heart of the Ocean”
In Thor: Ragnarok, a motley collection of hunters challenges a confused Thor with, “Are you friend, or are you food?” It’s a play on the hail “friend or foe,” building a dangerous world reveling in its violence and cannibalism in one swift sentence.
Cinrak’s rodent pirate world is one of fun, love, silliness, and respect. I wanted to create a through line about balance in community, nature, body, and spirit. What if pirates oversaw the equal distribution of resources? What if trans people had easy and equitable access to the health care they deserve? What if the monarchy answered to the people? What would keeping balance in the oceans look like?
As the quote above suggests, respect for the sapience of ocean creatures is baked (see: puns most definitely intended in this book) into the myths, legends, and superstitions of Rodentdom. The great kraken, the protector of sea creatures, has not been seen for hundreds of years. Rather than take this as carte blanche to chow down on the crumbed calamari with chili sauce, the rodents ask what so upset the balance of life that an entire species would suddenly disappear.
In early drafts, I made strong points about climate change and over-fishing disturbing not just the way of life, but magic. This too upset balance; the sweetness and respect for letting the world building bleed in from the edges and the unspoken had been compromised. Opting for a softer approach, I let the silent Agnes—the enormous kraken of myth—speak for herself. She forms a bond with one of Cinrak’s crew, shows them the wonders of the ocean, and becomes a mascot to the Impolite Fortune. Playful as a puppy, and knowing her worth, Agnes unapologetically takes up space. She just wants to hug… the whole ship.
Agnes becomes the herald in “The Hirsute Pursuit.” Her link to the ocean grapevine (seawood tangle?) allows her to be first with the news that a once in a generation harvest is ready. This story introduces another significant piece of Rodentdom’s ecosystem: a food source with properties that acts like hormone replacement for trans people. The only magic in this microcosm is how it has been guarded to ensure equal distribution of resources. Are the fairies rodent-flesh eaters? Their biology and behavior suggest something to that effect in their distant past. Or they could have found a solution to defending their land against colonial invasion. Either way, when left alone they understand and undertake balance, sharing their bounty with the rodents.
The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper is full of women who enjoy their food. Not for the spectacle of observers, but for pleasure and the nourishment of their bodies. As a pirate captain, Cinrak understands keeping her crew full, fit, and happy is a tool for community bonding and efficient livelihood. The food is in the detail. No one goes without a good cup of tea, or breakfast.
Including Agnes. Who cronches that shark with relish (pun alert!). Because she knows who is friend and who is food.
BIO: AJ Fitzwater lives between the cracks of Christchurch, New Zealand. Their work focuses on feminist and queer themes, and has appeared in venues of repute such as Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Giganotosaurus, GlitterShip, and in various anthologies. They are the author of rodent pirate escapades in The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper and the WW2 land girls shapeshifter novella No Man’s Land. With a background in radio, AJ lends their voice to podcast narrations, including for the Escape Artists universe. They enjoy maintaining a collection of bow ties. A unicorn disguised in a snappy blazer, they tweet @AJFitzwater. Their website is pickledthink.blogspot.com.
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