Authors: Justin Somper
Tags: #Action & Adventure - General, #Vampires, #Action & Adventure, #Children's 9-12 - Fiction - Horror, #Juvenile Fiction, #Family - Siblings, #Fantasy & Magic, #Fiction, #Horror & Ghost Stories, #Twins, #Children: Grades 4-6, #General, #Children's Books - Young Adult Fiction, #Pirates
THE THREE BUCCANEERS
Cutlass Cate strode across the deck of
, surveying her elite pirate attack force. The attack would commence within the hour and already her chosen pirates filled every space on the deck, preparing themselves mentally and physically for the challenge ahead. Cate walked slowly down the center of the deck, monitoring them all as they trained, making mental notes to pass on to individuals and teams. It was still strange, but exciting, to think of herself as deputy captain. Much had changed aboard
in the past few months. Cheng Li had left the ship — on a teaching assignment of all things! — and opened up the post of deputy, which Cate had needed little urging to fill. Captain Molucco Wrathe was back in his old high spirits now that Cheng Li had gone. She had always been something of a thorn in his side. He seemed far happier having Cate as his number two. They might not always agree on strategy but they maintained a friendly respect and, in matters of attack-planning, he generally let her have the final say. But, of all the changes that had occurred these past few months, to Cate the most important had been the arrival on board of the Tempest twins.
Their advent had been in the most tragic circumstances. Connor had turned up first, a week or so ahead of his twin sister, Grace. In the days following their father’s death, they had fled from their hometown — Crescent Moon Bay — in the family’s old wooden yacht. But misfortune had piled upon misfortune and the boat had been caught in the fiercest of storms. The twins had almost drowned, but fate had brought them to safety, though it had kept them separate for a time.
Cate knew what a testing time that separation had proved for Connor but, to the boy’s credit, he had thrown himself into life aboard
with every fiber of his being. She could see him now, at the very end of the deck, practicing his swordplay with his two best buddies — Bartholomew “Bart” Pearce and Jez Stukeley. She hastened her pace toward them. Bart and Jez had each been members of the crew for several years and were two of the most popular pirates on board. Both were in their early twenties now but had signed up to the articles while in their teens. Even as a teenager, Bart had been one of the strongest men aboard. But under her guidance, he had acquired expert swordsmanship to complement his muscles. Jez was smaller and leaner but, truth be told, the more accomplished swordsman. While Bart used the broadsword and often led the attack force, Jez — like Cate — was a precision fighter who, with his rapier skills, could determine the success of the day.
And then there was Connor Tempest — still just fourteen years old. He had only been aboard a little over three months and had no previous pirate training. Cate had introduced him to the rapier and was delighted with both his natural ability and his commitment to training. Now, as Cate observed the three young pirates executing their maneuvers, there was very little to separate them in terms of talent. Cate was especially delighted that Jez had taken Connor under his wing. Hopefully, the full genius of his rapier-handling would rub off on his young apprentice.
“And how are the Three Buccaneers, this fine day?” Cate asked, with a smile. She had come up with the nickname and it had stuck. The three pirates were inseparable. Each one looked out for his comrades — in and out of attack.
The three of them looked up from their swords, smiling as they saluted the deputy captain.
“We’re doing good, thank you, ma’am,” said Bart, with a grin. He and Cate had an ongoing flirtation, which she secretly enjoyed but could not encourage when she was on attack duty.
“At ease, lads,” she said, drawing closer. Though she was giving them permission to relax, the command also served to demonstrate her authority over them.
Bart took the hint. “So,” he asked, “tell us more about this ship we’re pursuing.”
“It’s a containership,” Cate said. “We’ve been following it all morning. Captain Wrathe received a tip-off early yesterday from one of our most reliable sources. Apparently, the ship’s loaded with cargo — and under-defended. Better yet, it’s in our own sea-lane.”
“Should be an easy victory then,” said Jez Stukeley.
“Never assume that,” Cate said. “The odds are in our favor, but we mustn’t be complacent.”
“No, sir!” exclaimed Jez.
?” echoed Bart. He and Connor grinned at their mate’s slipup.
Jez shrugged, flushing red. “I’m sorry,
. I don’t know what . . .”
all right,” said Cate, amused but keen not to let it show. She turned her eyes toward Connor. “And how’s young Mister Tempest feeling today?”
Connor looked her in the eye. “Poised and ready for attack!”
“Excellent!” said Cate. “And how’s Grace?”
Connor shrugged. “Fine, I guess. I haven’t seen her since breakfast. She was on early swords-maintenance duty, I think.”
“She’s making good progress with her own sword skills,” Cate said. She noted that Connor immediately tensed up, as he always did when the subject of Grace and swords came up. Surely he couldn’t be worried that she would prove a rival to him? As good as Grace was — and she certainly showed some natural flair for attack — she just didn’t apply herself as consistently to swordplay as Connor. It was a shame, Cate thought. Why should the boys have all the glory for themselves? She must have another word with Grace and get her to take things a bit more seriously. Maybe a little one-on-one training with another of the women pirates — perhaps Johnna? — was the way forward.
“You’re not going to put her into attack for the moment, are you?” Connor asked.
“No,” said Cate, shaking her head. “No, she’s not quite ready.” She saw Connor’s shoulders immediately relax. Now she thought she understood. He was simply a brother, being overprotective. He didn’t like to think of Grace putting herself into danger. But there was no free ride on a pirate ship and, besides, Grace had proved that she was able to deal with significant danger. After all, she had been “rescued” by a ship of vampires — or rather
— and lived to tell the tale. In spite of her crewmates’ urging, Grace had said very little about what she had endured aboard that ship. She had only confided in Connor and, though he had steadfastly kept his sister’s secrets, he had hinted that she had faced some truly horrific situations on board. It was understandable that he wanted to protect her from further trauma.
“You mustn’t worry about her,” Cate said to Connor. “She’s as tough as the leather on my sword hilt.”
Connor smiled, but only faintly. “She’s my sister, Cate. She’s all I have left in the world.”
“Na-hah, buddy,” said Bart, reaching out a hand to Bart’s shoulder. “What about us?”
“Yeah,” added Jez, digging Connor in the ribs. “What about the Three Buccaneers?”
“All for one and one for all!” added Bart.
“Very original,” said Cate, with a sigh.
But their clowning had done the trick. Connor was smiling again.
“All right, lads,” Cate said, “I’m off to make the final preparations for attack.”
!” Bart said, saluting her.
Cate tried to frown but she couldn’t stop the laughter breaking through. “Enough of your cheek,
Pearce. Any more lip and you’ll be on toilet duty tonight, while the rest of us are off to Ma Kettle’s.” She turned and walked away, before another wave of laughter broke through her serious demeanor.
“Ohh, I love it when she gets all uppity,” said Bart to his mates.
Connor rolled his eyes at Jez.
“Come on, Connor,” Jez said, “let’s leave Mister Pearce here to his lovesick fantasies while we get on with some serious rapier maneuvers.”
“You’re on,” agreed Connor.
After spending the morning cleaning swords, Grace Tempest was in need of a good wash herself. She scrubbed away at her hands and arms but, though she managed to get rid of most of the grime, she couldn’t extinguish the smell of oil and metal. Oh well, she’d just have to let it wear off, she decided. Bidding farewell to her fellows, she headed back down to her cabin for a well-earned break. As she walked down the corridor, she could hear the pirates on the top deck getting ready for the attack. Connor would be among them. She felt an instinctive wave of nerves for him. After three months, it was still strange to think of her twin brother as a pirate prodigy.
Sometimes, she wondered at the way things had turned out. After their father’s death, there had been nothing left for them in Crescent Moon Bay — nothing save a life of drudgery at the orphanage or being adopted by the lunatic bank manager, Lachlan Busby, and his demented wife, Loretta. And so they had taken to the ocean in their old boat,
, not exactly sure where they were heading, but certain that wherever they ended up would be better than what they left behind.
Neither one of them could have ever imagined what lay ahead though, thought Grace, pushing open the door to her small cabin. Her brother had been rescued by this pirate ship. And as for her, well, she had been brought to the Vampirates — creatures she had only heard of in the strange shanty her dad had sung to both twins.
I’ll tell you a tale of Vampirates,
A tale as old as true.
Yea, I’ll sing you a song of an ancient ship,
And its mighty fearsome crew.
Yea, I’ll sing you a song of an ancient ship,
That sails the oceans blue . . .
That haunts the oceans blue.
As many times as they had heard the shanty, they had never thought that the ship might actually exist. But it did! And she had found herself on board, coming face to face — or rather, face to mask — with its enigmatic captain.
They say that the captain, he wears a veil
So as to curtail your fright
At his death-pale skin
And his lifeless eyes
And his teeth as sharp as night.
Oh, they say that the captain, he wears a veil
And his eyes never see the light.
The captain did
wear a veil, but rather a mask. This was just one of the ways in which the reality of the Vampirate ship contrasted with the words of the shanty. The ship
as mysterious as she might have anticipated. But it certainly
the place of unalloyed horror that everyone expected. At least, it hadn’t been for her.
“Wasn’t it a
place?” one or other of the pirates would ask her each and every day. “What was the
thing that you endured?” was another popular question. And “What were they like, those
Faced with these questions, Grace had decided the best strategy was to say, “I’d rather not talk about it, if you don’t mind.” That generally did the trick. Poor Grace, they thought. Of course, she doesn’t want to conjure up memories of that awful place.
This was far easier than trying to persuade them that she had actually been treated well on board that ship. The masked captain had seemed a benevolent creature, with Grace’s best interests at heart. And though the Vampirates did — of course — drink blood, they did so in a measured fashion at the weekly Feast. And the blood was supplied by donors, who were treated well in exchange for their gift. She had told Connor about this, but even he had struggled to understand how she could be so accepting of it all. The mere thought of blood-taking — or “the sharing” as the Vampirates called it — filled him with horror. Grace smiled. As tough as Connor might appear to his pirate comrades, the very thought of blood made him nauseous. It was a good thing, she reflected, that it was
who had found herself on the Vampirate ship and
on the pirate vessel — and not the other way around!
As strange as it sounded, Grace had made good friends on the Vampirate ship. Why, the very clothes she was wearing had been given to her by Darcy Flotsam — the ship’s figure-head by day and, in her own words, “figure of fun by night.”
Sitting down on her narrow bed, Grace drew back the thin curtain over her porthole. Outside, the ocean was dazzling blue. It made her think — as she so often did — of Lorcan Furey. He was the “young” Vampirate who had rescued her from drowning. He had guarded her on the ship and, when the pirates came to find her, he had protected her one last time. She had left the ship in much more of a rush than she would have liked. She hadn’t even had the chance to say a proper good-bye to Lorcan. She had lost track of him after Connor arrived. Her brother’s arrival had been such a surprise!
Of course, Lorcan must have headed inside the ship as daylight fell. But, when Grace went to his cabin to bid him farewell, he wasn’t there. She had made Connor wait while she searched the rest of the ship for him, but she hadn’t found him. Even the Vampirate captain was unable to tell her where Lorcan might be. Finally, she could stall Connor no more. Grace said her good-byes to the Vampirate captain and then returned to her cabin one last time. She took a small case of possessions — including the notebooks from her cabin and some of Darcy’s cast-off clothes — and headed back up to the deck to depart.
When she had unpacked the case in her cabin on
later, she had discovered a small wooden casket that she didn’t remember packing. There was a small cloth bundle inside. As she unwrapped it, a small note-card fell out. Written in a familiar scrawl were the words:
Something to remember me by.