Bucc didn’t sleep much that night either. He cradled the old boot in his arms as he lay in his bed. A rich smell of soil filled his nostrils. Every now and then he would carefully stroke the tiny leaves of the daffodil within. He usually found that this helped, but it did little to calm him now.
Knowing that the next time you went to sleep you would no longer be a child was a daunting thought. Questions and fears raced through his mind. What if he didn’t have the right affinity? What if he had no choice but to fight? What if the ceremony changed him in some way, took away a part of who he was as a person?
He gave up trying to sleep and decided to wander the ship. He stepped out onto the deck and felt insignificant beneath the millions of stars that shone above him. Bucc didn’t see the universe with the enthusiasm that people like Adward managed to. For Adward, he saw stars as a symbol of the vastness of the universe, a sign that there are so many wonders out there to explore. All they did for Bucc was to remind him how absolutely tiny he really was.
Neither the helmsman nor the few pirates that occupied the deck paid Bucc any notice. With so many people aboard the floating village, there were always people up and about whatever the hour.
The world glowed with a silver light from the bloated moon above. Tomorrow would be a special full moon. There was only a single night each year that the Awakening could take place, so every ship across the world made the pilgrimage to one of the many moonspires that were scattered throughout the seas.
It seemed that Bucc wasn’t the only one who couldn’t sleep. Adward sat at the forecastle staring up at the sky. Bucc sat down beside him without speaking. They just sat there for a while, watching as the darkness of the sky grew murky with the first hints of morning.
“Did Jesse manage to sleep?” Bucc asked after a while. Adward chuckled at the question.
“No. Last time I looked she was hyperventilating in the corner of her cabin. You worry about far off things like the future. She worries about being forced to stand in front of the entire ship as the centre of attention. Unless she calms down you might just get out of the ceremony when she drops dead from a heart attack.”
“What about you?”
“Me? I’m fine with it all. I’ve never really had any hangups like you and Jesse. Things will be different, but that isn’t a bad thing. I can’t change it so why waste time worrying?”
“Has anyone ever told you how annoying it is that you’re always so calm?”
“A few people might have mentioned it.”
Bucc stared out at the sea thoughtfully. “I just wish Kaz was here. This feels like something he should have seen. Though I doubt we’d be worried at all if he was still around.”
“Yeah. I know. I think a lot of Jesse’s nightmares have been about him. She still blames herself. For him and our Ma.”
“I know the feeling,” Bucc answered tiredly. He was all too aware how large a part in Kaz’s death he had played. “Do you think he’d still be proud of us?”
“He always had big dreams, for himself and for us. He wanted to surpass Captain Dread, find his treasure, and become the greatest pirate in the world. He probably could have done it too. But he also taught us to be our own people. He was the one who showed me my first map of the riftways. He was the one who showed Jesse how to use and maintain a pistol, and he gave you your first seed, as well as that book on plants. As long as we are the ones making our own choices, I think he’d believe in us to do what is best.”
“You’re right, as always. Thanks.”
Adward turned his eyes back to the sky. He lifted a finger and traced a constellation. His lips moved silently as though he was trying to work something out.
“We’ll reach the moonspire about two hours after dawn,” he said. “We should really try and get some sleep. It’s going to be a busy day.”
Bucc agreed and returned to his cabin. He managed to get an hours’ fitful rest before being subjected to his mum’s suffocating enthusiasm when she came to wake him.
“Today’s the big day,” she said in that universal tone of sickly sweet maternal pride used by mothers across the known world. “My little boy is going to be all grown up.”
“Ma! This whole thing is embarrassing enough without you getting all soppy. Can’t I just stay in my cabin until tonight?”
“Of course you can’t. The Awakening might be tonight but there’s still a lot of preparation needed. Anyway, it’s your special day. Everyone wants to see you,” his mum said, ploughing through his complaints. Shayla wove around their feet with her tail held high in the air.
“I’m pretty sure that nobody wants to see me,” Bucc answered miserably. “Most of the ship is waiting to see how I disappoint their already low expectations. I just want to have my affinity confirmed then get out of here.”
“Of course people like you,” she said, hearing only the parts of his reply that she wanted to. “You’ll look at everything differently after the ceremony. You’ll see that everyone only has your best interest at heart. Why, once you become a full pirate we can see about getting you in some raids to capture someone from another ship and woo them, just like I did with your Pa. Or, if that isn’t your style, we can see about getting you and Jesse married.”
“What? Ma! Why do you have to be like this! I don’t want to be a pirate and I don’t want to get married yet!”
“But you and Jesse get on so well together. Her ambition and your confidence might make a full pirate.”
Bucc ignored the unintended insult. “We get on well because we’re friends. Now for the love of the Noodly One, please stop talking about it. This day’s going to be hard enough already.”
As Bucc emerged onto the deck, his eyes were immediately drawn to the tower of white rock that rose up out of the sea ahead of them. It was as wide as the Seal was long and reached up through the clouds to pierce the heavens above. The spire looked like it was polished pearl but nobody had ever been able to chip any fragments off for a closer inspection. A few greedy captains had even opened fire with cannons over the years, but nothing had ever left a scratch.
The deck was already busy with activity. The Awakening ceremony was the largest event in any given year. The only thing that could eclipse it would be a new promotion of a ship’s captain to a Pirate Lord. It seemed that extra supplies had been set aside for the ceremony despite the recent food shortages. Decorations were hung and tables were being laid out with food and kegs of ale and rum.
Despite his mum’s insistence that he be seen, there really wasn’t much for Bucc to do. He was led around to speak with just about everyone on the ship until what little energy he had was drained from him. A few times he had tried to slip away and escape, but his mum’s familiar, Shayla, had taken to sitting on his shoulder to keep an eye on him.
It was only when evening began to set in that Bucc really had any role to play. His father finally appeared and led him away from the deck back to Bucc’s cabin. His familiar was nowhere to be seen. A chest sat in the middle of the room that hadn’t been there that morning. His father opened it to reveal a neatly folded set of white clothes.
“It’s finally the day,” his father said solemnly. “It’s been just over twenty years since I stood where you are now. A lot’s changed since then. I used to be like you. I was small for my age, and really shy. Things got better though. I gained my affinity, joined in with the raids and made some good friends. Then your Ma clobbered me in the head and tied me up for a few days. I’ve never looked back.”
Bucc picked up a shirt from the top of the pile as his father spoke. The white material was thin and ornate, with an uncomfortable amount of ruffles and lace. Everything else in the chest had the same design.
“Doesn’t it look good,” his dad said with a smile. “It’s tailored using your birthshroud. The first thing you ever wore will be the first thing you wear as an adult. Then one day you’ll have children of your own and these clothes will be joined with your partners to create a new birthshroud, continuing on the cycle.” He was starting to get teary eyed now. Despite his appearance, Bucc’s dad was as sentimental as pirates came.
It was a fight to get into the elaborate clothing but eventually Bucc managed it. There were no mirrors in his cabin so he could hardly begin to imagine how ridiculous he looked. The only colour came from plain gold jewelry that adorned his wrists and neck.
His dad fussed around him, brushing his scruffy hair and scrubbing at his face. Bucc had given up resisting. It was proving quicker and less painful to just surrender. Sweet smelling oil was rubbed into his skin, then his father stepped back to admire his handiwork.
“You look good. Like a proper pirate.” He paused, then after a small hesitation, he hugged Bucc. “I know that you have your own dreams, and that maybe your Ma and me have wanted you to live a different way, but I just want you to know that we’re proud of you whatever happens. Even if you don’t have an affinity for earth like you want, there’s plenty of roles on a ship that don’t need you to fight. And you never know, maybe your mind will change as you grow up. The sight of blood used to make me pass out, but your Ma helped me to overcome that. I wanted to be a tailor before she bludgeoned her way into my life. So let’s go and show everyone what you’re made of, okay?”
Bucc took a deep breath. “Okay. It’s not like there’s anywhere to run or hide, so let’s do this.” He didn’t feel even close to as confident as he tried to sound.
Together they made their way back up to the deck. The bleached white shoes that Bucc wore echoed loudly with each step. It was a warm evening but a fierce chill seemed to surround him. It took all of his effort not to visibly shake.