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
Your true friend,
Grace’s heart was beating fast as she lifted the card. Just the sight of Lorcan’s scrawled signature was enough to move her. But, folded within the cloth, lay an even greater shock. For there was Lorcan’s Claddagh ring. She remembered the first time she had seen it, as he’d brushed a stray hair from her wet face, after rescuing her from drowning.
Now she looked down at the ring — at the strange icon of the hands clasping a skull, a small crown set upon the skull’s head. She took the ring in her fingers. This was too great a gift, she thought. It was almost a part of Lorcan. But perhaps that was the point, she thought with a thrill. He
her to have a part of him. She’d have to return it to him one day, she decided. In the meantime, it would be her talisman — a reminder of the time she had spent on the Vampirate ship and an omen that one day, in the future, she
For now, she unfastened the chain Connor had given her, and slipped the ring onto it, so that it nestled beside Connor’s locket. They were her two most precious possessions.
Grace reached up her fingers to touch the ring now. Sometimes, when she touched it, she closed her eyes and had such a clear vision of the Vampirate ship, it was as if she were able to see it for real. If only this were true!
How were they all — the captain and Darcy and Lorcan? — she wondered. Where were they now? Once again, she wished she had had longer to say her good-byes. It had been impossible to argue with Connor when he had said she must come to live with him on
. She would never have been able to convince him that they should stay on the Vampirate ship. That would be
, wouldn’t it? Choosing to live amongst a crew of vampires? She remembered something her father had once told her.
“Sometimes madness is wisdom, Gracie.”
She had the feeling her dad would have understood.
Grace let her hand fall from Lorcan’s ring. She would have chosen to stay with them if she had had a real choice. Only one of the crew had threatened her. As always, she shuddered as the image of Lieutenant Sidorio came into her mind — his eyes flaming pits of fire, his gold incisors as sharp as daggers.
Sidorio — who had killed his donor and held Grace hostage in her cabin until the captain rescued her.
Sidorio — who had told her that he had been killed by Julius Caesar himself before he crossed.
Sidorio — who had been banished from the ship, and sent into exile.
He had been the only truly dangerous one aboard that ship, thought Grace, as she stared out into the translucent ocean. But Sidorio was gone. The danger had passed. Surely it would be safe to return now, if she could only find a way.
AN EASY VICTORY
“Sound the cannon!” cried Cate. The attack was on.
was alongside the target ship. Cannon fire signalled the raid had begun and the sound of grinding metal signalled that the grids the pirates called the “Three Wishes” had swung down from above to make bridges onto the containership. Connor had not yet cured his fear of heights and his heart did a familiar somersault as he heard the wishes descend, anticipating his imminent run across the wishes, high above the water. Mercifully, it all happened quickly, and today, there was further compensation in the relative gentleness of the ocean.
“Fours — go!”
The instant the wishes were near horizontal, the teams of four raced heavy-footed across them. These were the teams of muscle — mostly grown men, including Bart — who began the attack by swirling their broadswords and inducing fear and apparent chaos on the other deck.
“First eights — in!”
Cate’s cry signalled the movement of three teams of eight rapier and épée bearers across the metal grids. This was the first flank of precision fighters. Though the broadsworders appeared more fearsome, it was the first eights who posed the deeper threat. As Cate had once told Connor, using her épée was like “fighting with a needle.” If that needle pierced a human target in the right spot, it would puncture a vital organ and trigger a slow, painful death from the inside out. Jez was the last of the first eights, ahead of Connor.
“See you on the other side!” he cried to Connor as he jumped onto the wish.
The 4–8–8 formation in which the pirates of
launched their attack on the containership was one of Cate’s favorite and most successful maneuvers. It was her preferred mode of attack on a medium-sized craft, such as the current target, and involved sixty pirates, divided into three teams, which then further subdivided into 4–8–8. Each pirate in the second team of eight was paired with one in the first — the second acting as a backup to the more experienced and accomplished fighter. Today, Connor would act as Jez’s backup. They’d been working as a pair during every attack for the past eight weeks and Connor was learning a lot from his good friend and mentor.
The head of Connor’s team made the cry and now the teams of second eights flew across the wishes to join the battle. Connor was the last of his team. Again he thought back to his first attack, when Cheng Li had nudged him forward. Now, Cheng Li was gone and there was just his own will to push him on. Taking a deep breath, Connor leaped onto the wish and ran into the fray. Now it was all about instinct and timing and precision. Now Connor Tempest inhabited not just the clothes of a pirate but a pirate’s skin and soul. As he let out a cry and drew his rapier from its sheath, he felt the blood pumping through his veins. He felt truly alive.
As Connor raced through the melee aboard the containership, he saw that Jez was running rings around two of the opposing ship’s crew. They were dressed head to toe in black and brandishing curved swords with sharp outer edges, which Connor recognized as scimitars. To be brandishing such weapons, he realized that the cargo of the containership must be precious indeed. The stakes of today’s battle would be high.
“Welcome aboard!” Jez greeted Connor, with a laid-back smile. “Come and meet my new friends!”
At the sight of Connor — charging forward, rapier in hand — the two crew members promptly surrendered, dropping their scimitars to the deck.
“An excellent decision, my friends,” Jez said, beaming. “Connor, keep them under guard here. I’ll be back in a flash.”
“No problem,” Connor said, standing in the ready position with his rapier covering both men. This was not the end of the battle. He’d been caught out before and he knew that one slip mid-combat could result in a very different result at the end of the fight.
He did, however, allow himself a quick glance across the deck. The attack seemed to be going in their favor. Although the defending crew were well-armed, they seemed to be insufficiently skilled at fighting techniques, and the pirates of
had them on the defensive with Jez’s maneuver repeated all over the deck. The containership’s crew was brought to the center of the deck, their scimitars dropping like pine needles onto the boards. Connor felt flushed with pride.
, under the instruction of its new deputy captain, Cate, was truly an elite fighting machine.
Connor looked into the eyes of his captives. “Always watch your opponent’s eyes,” Bart had once told him. “The sword can lie, but the eyes don’t.” During past attacks, he’d grown used to reading the fear in his prisoners’ eyes. This was the part of the operation he found the hardest to deal with. Bart and Jez had told him that this would change in time.
“There’s nothing wrong in it,” Jez had told him. “It’s good to remember that your prisoner is just another guy — just like me or you — another guy with mates and family and dreams of glory. It
becomes a problem if you let your guard slip for an instant and allow him back into the fight.” Connor was already an experienced enough pirate to know that that wasn’t going to happen here.
Careful not to let his captives out of his sight, he again cast his eyes swiftly around the deck. It looked like the battle was coming to a close. He could see Cate and Captain Wrathe circling the core of prisoners, all clustered around the mast at the ship’s center. Farther in the distance, Connor saw Bart and his team of broadsworders, guarding the periphery. Everything was under control. Now, just one important maneuver remained — the surrender of the defending captain. But where
the captain? Who was he — or she? All the pirates were dressed identically, with no distinguishing marks of rank. Why, Connor himself might be holding the captain captive.
Connor watched his prisoners’ faces as he heard Molucco Wrathe call out.
“Captain, come and show yourself. Your ship has been boarded and I, Molucco Wrathe, of
, lay claim to your cargo.”
There was no response. Captain Wrathe’s words hung in the air like the residue of cannon fire.
Jez rejoined Connor. Connor turned to him, expecting his comrade to be smiling, but Jez’s face was serious.
“I don’t like this,” he whispered. “I don’t like this at all. It’s been too easy.”
“Easy is good, isn’t it?” said Connor.
Jez shook his head. “There’s easy, and there’s too easy. Something’s wrong.”
Connor trembled at his words.
Captain Wrathe called out again. “Come and show yourself, Captain. We’ll do no more harm if we can agree to terms swiftly — and fill our hold with your treasures!”
This time, there was an answer. It came with the sound of a bell. The ship’s bell. As the strange tolling rang out three, then four, then five times, the pirates of
looked from one to the other, wondering what was going on. Connor could just make out Cate’s face in the distance. He could see that she was as perturbed as the rest of them.
Now, he was
worried. He looked back at his prisoners’ faces. One of them was smiling at him. Then he began to laugh. His fellow followed suit. Connor turned to Jez, confused, as the wave of laughter spread from one prisoner to the next, until a crescendo of laughter took over the deck.
Suddenly, Connor became aware that his crewmates no longer formed the outer periphery of the deck. They were now surrounded by a circle of pirates, dressed head to toe in black like their prisoners, brandishing the same deadly scimitars. How had the captives done it? The deck was now full of them. The pirates of
were completely outnumbered.
“They tricked us,” Jez said. “Look over there!”
Connor followed his gaze to where a line of black-clad figures were rising from two holes on the deck. Trap-doors!
“And look behind you!”
Connor twisted his head. More crew members were climbing out from two farther trapdoors at the starboard end of the ship. The defending crew had lulled the pirates of
into a false sense of victory by only fielding a skeleton crew for the initial fight. It was a bold move — for how did they know that the pirates would not go in for the kill? But the risky stratagem had paid off and now four times as many black-clad crew stood ranged about the deck, scimitars outstretched.
“What do we do?” Connor asked Jez. Jez shrugged, looking beaten. “Know any good prayers, mate?”
Connor had never seen Jez so dejected. He looked from Jez’s ashen face to the smiling prisoners before him — or, at least, the men he’d thought were his prisoners. Suddenly, Connor felt very, very sick.
“Lay down your weapons, attacking scum!”
The captain’s voice at last called out across the deck. Still, Connor held tight to his raised rapier. No pirate of
could lay down his or her weapon without instruction from a commanding officer. It was one of the articles Connor had signed up to when he joined Molucco Wrathe’s command.
But now, to his surprise, Connor heard Cate cry, “Lay down your weapons, fellows.”
He could scarcely believe his ears. In the three months of his tenure on the ship they had been in some scrapes, but nothing compared to this. All around him, weapons thudded to the floor. He turned questioningly to Jez, who nodded sadly. Together, they lay down their rapiers. As they did so, in a clearly well-rehearsed movement, the former prisoners swept up their scimitars. Now the crew of
were held under swords from both sides. They had no chance of escape. But where was the enemy captain?
“Let the shamed captain announce himself!” It was the same voice that had commanded them to lay down their weapons. A voice that spoke of violence and no mercy. Connor and the others glanced about the deck. But it was not clear who was speaking. “Let the shamed captain announce himself!” repeated the voice.
“I have already made my presence clear,” called Molucco Wrathe in response, “which is more than can be said for
Connor looked over to Captain Wrathe. Even now, in the face of disaster, Molucco had lost none of his grandeur. He was, and would ever be, a larger-than-life character.
Suddenly, there was a noise high up above. Connor glanced up to the crow’s nest. A man stood there — clad in the same costume as his crew, head to toe in black. The other pirates began looking upward, too.
Then, to Connor’s amazement, the captain jumped from the crow’s nest. He dived down onto the deck, flying past the sails and rigging, trailing a black cord behind him. As he neared the deck — and certain death — the cord held him tight, like a bungee. He bounced for a moment, then hung upside down — and perfectly still — like a sleeping bat. Finally, the captain unsheathed his scimitar and sliced through the cord. As the cord broke free, he executed a perfect somersault in midair, landing neatly on the deck a few feet from where Molucco stood.
The mysterious captain strode toward Molucco. His scimitar flashed in the sunlight like cut diamond. He ran it across Captain Wrathe’s neck. Still, Molucco did not flinch.
Now the captain lifted his other hand and removed the dark coverings of his head. The black cloth unfurled like ribbons, which flew away in the breeze.
Only now, did Captain Wrathe pale and seem to shrink in stature. Only now, did he seem at a loss for words, gulping for air. Until, at last, he managed to open his mouth and speak.
But it can’t be . . . can it?”
Connor turned to Jez, wondering if
knew what was going on. But, for once in his life, Jez Stukeley was utterly silent.