The day was quiet. The sun stayed bright and high in the sky for hours. Near the time they would have been sitting down for a midday meal an island showed up on the horizon.Captain Kruger knew this island well.
It was common for ships to stop here and rest for a day or two. Often, they were ships like his own: filled to the brim with pirates and treasure but lacking some of the basic needs like fruit. This island was bountiful and provided more than they would need.
Kruger decided to set a course for the island. They could rest there for a day or two and stock up. Maybe they could even unload some of the goods they had on board in his favorite hiding place. It would lighten the load on the ship and make more room for food.
The beach would be littered which the boys might find interesting. Hopefully they would get lucky and find something to keep. Something personal that would pull them together when they needed it. Captain Kruger still had the wooden chess piece he found after his first storm at sea. It was somewhere in the chest at the end of his bed, hidden between letter from his father to his mother.
It was special to him because his mother had always told him how his father and she would play chess for hours when they were younger. He believed the rook was a sign or a gift from his father. When he was in a more drunk or bitter mood, he believed it was from the Sea Bastard. A taunt. A beckoning. A call to come find it.
“We’ll take a res’ here, maties. Jus’ a day or two. Then, we’re back at it,” Captain Kruger announced. The boys will enjoy this place, he thought to himself.
It didn’t take long for an experienced sailor such as Kruger to dock the ship in a cove coming off the island. Afterall, he had done it many times here and elsewhere. It was smooth sailing which he was sure the crew appreciated, especially after the previous night.
When they were as far in as they could get, the captain ordered the anchor to be dropped. He knew the boys would be excited to get off the ship for the first time and to explore a new place, though he needed to warn them against the possible dangers. You never knew what lurked on this island. It could be full of dreams or nightmares depending on where you went and during what time of day or night it was.
“Ye will have to be careful that ye don’ get caught by one ‘o them animals after the sun sets for the nigh’. Else ye may not come back aboard with us when we’re ready to leave,” Kruger announced to the boys before letting them walk to the edge of the ship. “I hope ye can all swim good, b’cause yer gunna have te jump an’ make yer way to the shore. ‘An don’ worry ‘bout no sharks. They done ran when the ship came in.”
All eight of the boys were more than pleased to jump overboard into the twenty or thirty feet of water that the ship sat in. They had wanted to get in the ocean many times since setting out but it had never been recommended, or even safe, before now.
The boys made it to the shore in record time. Everyone was lightened by their happiness. They delighted in the sights, sounds and smells of he island. They had never experienced anything like this before and they were overstimulated. It showed in the bright smiles adorning each of their faces.
There were palm trees which were alive and well, another thing they had never seen before. They were from further north than the captain usually went, but desperate times called for desperate measures and he went all the way to the north coast for these boys. This was the first time they had been anywhere that wasn’t dreary and dark and you could see it lighting up their souls.
Many of the fronds from the trees had been blown down during the storm and it gave the captain an idea. He would teach the boys how to make a lean-to on the island from things that they would only be able to find on a beach. If they were lucky, he would let them use some of the debris from the beach, but only after they showed him they could do what he needed them to.
They would need to know how to make a shelter on an island that would withstand some wind and rain should they ever be docked and away from their ship. They would also need to know where to make it when the high tide came in during the middle of the night or if the waves rose during another storm.
The boys did well with this task, making almost entirely stable shelters for themselves in the matter of an hour or so. The sun was setting into the sea as they finished.
Captain Kruger decided to teach the boys to gather the driest wood and make a fire next. He sent half of them in one direction down the beach and the other half in the opposite way. His older men would do the fishing tonight and he would teach the boys beach fishing the next morning just before midday.
They boys came back with mostly acceptable wood but Kruger had had to send a few of them back once or twice to try again. He knew they were getting tired.
“Men gotta work until the day be through, fellas. Yer all men now and ye ain’ got no time to be wastin’ think’ ‘bout sleep or pretty ladies when ye gots an empty belly,” he told them. He knew they would get it right eventually but he refused to take it easy on them. Life never would and he didn’t want them getting the wrong idea about how things were going to be out here in the world when he was gone. He knew he was getting older and wouldn’t be around for them forever.
As the fire was stoked and burned warm and bright, Kruger looked to Ricky.
“They’re comin’ a long way in a shor’ time,” he told his younger friend. “Reminds me of how ye were when ye was just a lad as well.”
Ricky smiled at this, nothing the softness in Kruger’s eyes he had started to see more as the man aged.
The grown men brought back more food than was needed. They would salt some of it late into the night and save it for another day. You had to take what you could while you could when you lived a life like the one these men did. Crab was especially wonderful when you could get a little butter on it from a town at some point. They had bought some from the boys’ town and saved it for a night like this when it had been earned. They would have used it had it gone bad first, but it seemed like time was on their side for once.
The next morning, after they had finished with their breakfast, the captain sent the boys with Ricky to learn how to fish off the beach. It wasn’t much different from fishing off the boat except that they wouldn’t need help to bring their fish in this time. They came back with a healthy pile that was more than enough for the next two meals. They even remembered to bring in the crab and lobster traps, which were full. They would have yet another good day of eating.
They would need it.
The sun was beginning to set and the sky was finally fully clear. Captain Kruger decided they would head back to the ship before it got too late and head out in the morning at first light. There was no sense in wasting more good sailing days just for a vacation, no matter how well deserved it was.
When the morning came, they did indeed set out. After a few hours something new came into the view.
“Cap’n, we gots us some trouble on the horizon,” Bobby yelled from his position up top.
“Whatcha meanin’ there, mate?” Kruger said as he pulled his spy glass to his one good eye. “Aye, I see. Yer right…”
“Should I -” Ricky started.
“Ye do it now or I will, boy!” The captain was stern and slightly upset that Ricky had yet to call the rest of the crew to action. He was to be the next captain of the ship if Kruger had anything to say about it.
It took Ricky only a second to jump into action:
“MAN THE CANNONS!”
The ship that lie ahead of them came into view. It flew the Royal insignia. This was a military boat. Who knew for how long it had been following them.
Probably since we picked up them boys, Kruger told himself. He knew he was risking capture when he took the children, but he needed them. In his own twisted way, Kruger had convinced himself that the boys needed him, too. They needed him in order to get away from the lonely beach life they would have lived had he left them there.
But a pirate knew, every time they docked they were risking being caught. By staying on the island for an extra day they had allowed the ship to get too close. He knew had they stayed the night like the crew had wanted they would have been caught and taken to hang, the boys included. The rules were strict: ‘a pirate ye be, a pirate’s death ye die.’ The age of the pirate and how they got to be where they were was of no concern to the king, even when there were children involved.
He was ready for the fight of a lifetime. He wouldn’t lose any more men, especially not to the Royal fleet, those bastards. They were almost as bad as what he was going after. Then, he remembered, not only could he not let his crew and ship go down, but he had to stay alive as well. He had to get to the Sea Bastard and see it for himself. He had to know what had taken his father from him when he was young and his mother was ill.