It was late afternoon the next day when the Singing Seal was once again ready to set sail. Bucc had spent the night in the woods with Jesse and Adward, and had been reluctant to return to the ship.
Now they were making up for lost time, pushing forward at full sail to reach a large rock known as a moonspire in time for the yearly Awakening ceremony. It was a simple rite of passage for any pirate that had turned thirteen since the previous year’s ceremony, and this year it was Bucc’s turn to become an adult. Both Jesse and Adward, who had been born a short eleven months apart, were joining him, as were another two children.
Every year Bucc had watched the Awakening take place with a growing sense of dread, each time knowing that his turn was another year closer. He knew everything that the rite entailed, but it still scared him. Childhood was a shield. How long would he be able to avoid conflict after becoming a fully-fledged pirate? That was why developing an affinity for earth was so important to him.
Bucc was in his newly repaired cabin, where he had planned to hide away for as long as possible, but the world had other ideas. There was a noise from near the door. He put down his book and looked across the cabin to find his mum’s familiar staring at him. It cocked its head in an all too human way, motioning for Bucc to follow.
Arguing was pointless, so Bucc slipped on his boots and followed Shayla out into the corridor. None of the six paws made any sound as they padded across the wood floors. It walked with the dangerous saunter of a proud hunter. The familiar led him up onto the deck where his parents were waiting for him. Beside them were Captain Gus, Big Tim, Jesse, Adward, and the sibling’s father, Jon-Boy Reeds.
“Nice of you to join us, lad,” the captain said impatiently. He leaned in towards the three children, his face darkening. “The crew’s decided that it’s time for you three runts to get a real education in piracy before the Awakening. Jim Haddock and Annie Clyde have already stepped up and embraced the life. So Big Tim here is going to show you the ways of true pirates.”
Big Tim smiled at them, then remembered that he was teaching them to be feared pirates, he turned the smile into a scowl.
“Yarr! I’ll have you scallywags ready to plunder Davie Jones himself by the time I’m finished with you. Yarr!” Since getting the eyepatch, Big Tim had really been playing up his pirateness.
“Ah, what a good idea,” Bucc announced, nodding his head enthusiastically. “Teaching the next generation of pirates to navigate the wild seas and club each other in the head with heavy objects. I’m sure Jesse and Adward will gain a lot from the experience. So, who’s teaching me correct methods of irrigation?”
Captain Gus gave Bucc a look that would wither stone. “I don’t know nothing about this irrigation, but you’re already a master of irritation. You’ll all be pirates. Whatever your affinity, no soul leaves the Seal as anything other than a pirate. What you do off my ship is no concern to me.”
The captain pulled the parents to one side and began to discuss preparations as he led them over to his cabin. Big Tim looked down at his wards and cracked his meaty knuckles. Bucc took a nervous step back.
The large man stomped closer to the children and stood at his full height. He looked very intimidating but he lowered his voice to a near whisper. “I’ve got three days to turn you into pirates. The captain offered me extra rations if it pays off, so do me a favour and pretend to be cool, okay?”
He took a breath then spoke loud enough for the whole deck to hear. “Right then, you maggots. It’s time you became real pirates, and being a pirate means you can do whatever you want, whenever you want to.”
“I want to go to my cabin,” Bucc said.
“Whatever you want, so long as you want to fight, steal, or drink,” Big Tim reiterated loudly. Bucc sighed.
“Captain Gus chose me specially for this job because I’m so good at being a pirate,” Big Tim continued. “So I’m going to pass on my skills to you. I’ll show you how to hit people and shoot people. Then I’ll show you how to navigate and swing on ropes so you can find people to hit and shoot. Simple.”
He handed the children three blunt cutlasses from a bag he was carrying. It felt heavy to Bucc, but it wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling. Basically from birth, pirate children were given toy swords and flintlock pistols. Jesse tried to point this out but fumbled over her words. She clamped her mouth shut and looked away to hide her frustrated blush.
“You’ll also learn to shout. Pirates need to be loud and confident. It’s in our blood,” Big Tim explained. He pounded his fists into his chest and gave a mighty “Yarr” to demonstrate.
He pointed to where some sandbags had been hung from the sails. “We’ll start simple. I want you to give a battlecry as you hit the sandbag. Like this.” He drew his cutlass. It was a giant hunk of metal closer to a club than a blade. He swung and shouted another “Yarr!” as loud as he could. Pirates all around them stopped what they were doing to see what the commotion was. The bag burst in an explosion of sand.
The three children stepped up to the bags. A few Pirates had gathered around to watch. Bucc felt their eyes on him like a physical force. He half-heartedly hit the bag with a mumbled “yarr”.
Big Tim clicked his tongue. His familiar, a bloated toad with a comically big head, jumped up and spat a burst of water at Bucc’s face.
“Show me passion. My Glug will keep spitting until you do it right. And believe me, each time he does it makes the water grosser.”
Adward was taking no chances. He whacked the sandbag and shouted as loud as he could. He glanced nervously at the familiar but Big Tim gave him an encouraging thumbs up. Glug gave a threatening rumble and edged towards Bucc, causing the boy to flinch. He wiped his face then attacked the sandbag with all his strength. All of his strength still wasn’t a lot, but it was enough for Big Tim.
Jesse was frozen in place. The cutlass shook in her hands. Her eyes darted between the onlookers frantically. Bucc hated to see her like this. Especially since he knew just how much she hated herself for being that way. He thought for a moment and an idea came to him.
He walked over to Jesse and smiled reassuringly at her. Not making any sudden movements, Bucc reached out and took one of her pigtails in each hand. He pulled them over her shoulders then tied them together in front of her eyes.
“Don’t look,” he told her. He guided her carefully until she was right beside the sandbag. “Just take a deep breath and ignore everything else. The only thing that exists in your world is your dream, okay? No people staring, no judgement, just you and the steps needed to wear that spiffy captain’s hat.”
Jesse was breathing deeply. Bucc stepped back but stayed close enough for support. She swayed slightly where she stood. Seconds passed. Then, out of nowhere, Jesse released an unholy scream of rage and smashed her cutlass repeatedly into the sandbag. In the frenzied movements, the knot came loose and her pigtails slid away, uncovering her eyes. Finally, she stopped and staggered backwards, panting heavily.
Adward barrelled into his sister and wrapped his arms tightly around her. Bucc just watched in stunned silence. A few of the watching pirates recovered themselves enough to cheer. Jesse’s eyes were still scrunched shut.
Glub spat several streams of water into the air that fell around the group like rain. Big Tim tapped the tip of his cutlass on the floor to get their attention.
“Not to rain on anyone’s parade,” he started. There was a moment of silence as he waited for someone to appreciate his pun. Nobody did. “That was child’s play. I want you to keep doing it until your arms are about to fall off and your lungs are on fire. Maybe then you can get a pat on the back. No food until you’ve done.”
“What? That’s not fair!” shouted Bucc.
“Welcome to life, laddie. Now save that voice for battlecries, eh.”
Time passed with agonising slowness. Big Tim hadn’t been exaggerating about how long he expected them to keep up the training. By the time the giant pirate signalled for them to stop, Bucc’s arms were numb and his voice was hoarse. Even Jesse had managed to keep up the display. They had found some spare cloth which Adward fashioned into a blindfold to cover her eyes more securely. She swung blindly at the sandbag and had almost hit Bucc and Adward several times.
Their reward of food turned out not to be worth the effort. They were served a thin broth of noodles and potatoes with the odd green pea floating at the top. The children stared at the meagre bowls disappointedly.
“How do they expect us to grow up big and strong serving us this?” Jesse vented. “Especially after everything I just went through.”
“It does look less than usual,” Adward said with a trace of concern in his voice.
“Surely we just picked up supplies while we were at Cantruug, right?” Bucc added. His stomach grumbled in agreement. “Let’s go ask Grim Jimmy. It’s not like him to be stingy. Maybe he’ll give us something better if we ask nicely.”
They headed down into the galley only to find the cook grumbling to himself. He was looking flustered. He glanced at the children and scowled, shooing them away without a word.
Bucc wasn’t about to leave without answers. “What gives?” he asked.
“What gives?” rumbled the cook. “What gives is that I can only cook what I have and what I have isn’t enough to last the crew as long as it needs to last them.”
“But we just stopped at Cantruug. Surely we picked some more supplies up there?”
“Bah!” the cook spat. “Cantruug had a poor harvest last year. Supplies are already tight. And guess who got what supplies they did have to trade? Those mongrel seadogs of the Vigilous. Smashed up our ship and bought all the food. Sure, we could have got a bit more, but old Golden Gus wasn’t willing to pay the asking price. So now it’s me who has to deal with every hungry blighter coming down here to complain.”
The children left the poor cook in peace and ended up going to bed tired and hungry.