Bucc’s new cabin turned out to only be half the size of the one back on the Seal. It was a cramped space that made it clear that personal time wasn’t much of a concern on The Lady Hope. Unlike the floating Villages, The Hope existed to do a job and everything was geared towards that single purpose.
For the first time since before his Awakening, Bucc ate his meagre dinner together with his parents. For over a year they had missed him, had fought, made memories, and grown without him. It really showed. In many ways they seemed like completely different people.
Hours passed as they caught up with each other, until Bucc finally managed to persuade them to let him leave. He stopped in at the cabin that had been assigned to Milla. She was laid in her bunk and still showed no signs of waking.
As he wandered the corridors, Bucc stumbled upon another familiar face, although it took him a moment to recognise the man. Jon-Boy Reeds had always been a slight man with a constant layer of gunpowder and oil covering his body. These days he looked gaunt and haunted, and moved with a slow vagueness as though he were sleepwalking. His eyes widened after a few seconds of staring through Bucc.
“Buccaneer Jones? Is that really you. You’re… alive.”
The man suddenly became animated, running up to Bucc and grabbing his shoulders. “Please tell me that you’ve seen my Jesse and Adward. You were inseparable. Please! I need to know that they’re safe.”
Bucc could only shake his head. “I’m sorry.”
The man’s face dropped and tears threatened to fall. Bucc placed his hands over the older man’s shaking fingers.
“I have more faith in Jesse and Adward than in anything else. I know they’ll be alright, and I think deep down, you know they are too. We’ll find them. That’s a promise.”
Mister Reeds blinked away the tears and nodded. “You’re right. Those kids are destined for great things. Thank you, Buccaneer. You’ve really grown up this past year. Death has been kind to you. Been getting personal lessons from Davy himself?”
Bucc tapped his nose with a smile. “Family secrets.”
He returned to his cabin and found that sleep came easily. It seemed as though barely any time had passed before he was ripped from his dreams by the sharp tolling of a bell. He rolled out of his bunk and hastily got dressed, rushing into the corridor expecting some kind of attack or emergency.
Other pirates slowly started to emerge from their rooms. None of them looked panicked. They yawned tiredly and shuffled along without any sense of urgency.
“Where’s the fire?” one of the crew asked him with a joyless chuckle. “Don’t scratch with your hook, lad, it’s just the mornin’ bell. Captain Ackeridge likes her crew to be early risers.”
Bucc breathed a sigh of relief. He joined up with his parents again for a small breakfast then was directed to the deck to begin mopping. For a moment, Bucc considered the fact that his affinity made him one of the most valuable members of the crew yet he was being made to scrub floors, but then he accepted it since cleaning sounded much more reasonable to him.
He spent the whole day doing small jobs until his joints ached and his hands felt raw. It was the first full day’s work he’d ever done and it brought with it the realisation why the other adults drank so much. Still, the simplicity of the tasks were strangely relaxing and helped him keep his thoughts occupied.
No orders were sent across to The Lady Hope that day, so when the bulk of the work was done, most of the pirates pulled up barrels and began the time honoured pirate tradition of drinking as they sang and played cards. At first Bucc was dismayed as his perfectly cleaned floor quickly became drenched in spilled ale, but for the first time ever, he too was offered a place and handed a flagon.
Bucc drank and laughed with the older pirates until the effects of the alcohol hit him hard after only a few drinks. The others laughed boisterously at him as he staggered over to the railing holding his stomach.
Time moved in a tangle around him. Bucc wasn’t sure if a minute or an hour had passed, but eventually his stomach settled and he returned to his seat. Another drink was immediately shoved into his hand but he didn’t drink it. Instead he stared into the brown liquid, his vision swimming unsettlingly as he tried to focus.
Without really thinking he began to pour a trickle of power into the flagon. The ale started to bubble and steam. He gazed into the bubbles for several seconds and frowned. There was no fire. How did his powers work exactly? A thought struck him like a hammer. Maybe it was heat that flamecasters really controlled. Fire was just the easiest use, a visual ability with broad purposes that was instantly recognisable. Pirates weren’t good with subtlety, so why wouldn’t their use of affinities mirror this. Milla had already demonstrated that there was so much more to the powers of earth than simply helping plants grow. And if Bucc could control heat…
His chain of thought was shattered as his mum sat down beside him and slapped him on the back with a grin. She raised her flagon and chugged it.
“Crooks tells me you’ve had your first ale upchuck! The Awakening is ceremony, but you ain’t a real pirate until you’ve spewed your guts after one too many. A bit of practice and we’ll have you knocking ‘em back like a champ.”
His father sat down at his other side and nodded encouragingly. Bucc’s thoughts on affinities reminded him of something.
“Hey, Pa? I have a favour to ask you. Do you still have your sewing kit here?”
“Sure do. What are you needing?”
Bucc explained his idea then was about to return to his cabin when his dad stopped him.
“I have something I’ve been meaning to give you, Bucc. I’ve kept it with me since the Seal. It nearly killed me saving it from the fire.” He left and returned a few minutes later carrying a clay pot which he handed to Bucc. The pot was filled with soil. Nothing else was visible within.
“I looked after your plant for you, and took the seeds it left before it withered in the winter. I replanted them in that pot, and with your care they should start to sprout soon. I know your life took a different direction, but that plant still represents an important part of yourself. You care about things. We’re proud of you, and I know that Kaz would be too.”
Bucc’s hands shook as he held the pot. Tears pricked at his eyes. “Thank you,” was all he could think to say as he hugged his dad.
He finally said goodnight and headed back to his cabin. He placed the pot on the small bunkside table then climbed into the sheets. The room span sickeningly around him, and when he woke up his head was pounding. He laid there feeling sorry for himself until the tolling of the morning bell sounded and he forced himself up. After drinking several glasses of water over breakfast he felt basically human again.
Before they had finished in the mess hall, a messenger stood in the doorway. “Orders were passed along to the captain at dawn. The Lady Hope has been chosen to lead a raid on the Ashenna supply line tonight. Captain Ackeridge wants everyone at their stations and prepared for a skirmish. We set sail in an hour.”
Excitement rippled through the crew. Pirates were not at home sitting around and waiting. The prospect of battle lifted everyone’s spirits, except for Bucc, and the shipmates moved with renewed purpose.
Bucc found it hard to clean with so many people rushing around, so instead he wandered the ship, better familiarising himself with its layout. Neri, who had been very quiet since arriving at the Isles, left his back and floated around his head. She made a strange chirping sound that Bucc had started to associate with the creature’s attempts at speech. Sometimes they were happy little sounds, but increasingly they were ones of agitation.
“Look, I know you want us to go back to that place, but we can’t,” Bucc told her. Neri made a wheezing sound like a deflating balloon. “Milla isn’t awake, and even if both of us could somehow get back there, we still don’t have a key.”
Neri floated higher and rolled along the roof as she made a low whining sound. Bucc sighed but was quickly distracted when the ship began to move.
He found a porthole that offered a good view and watched as two other ships pulled away from the fleet to follow them. The small group made good speed away from the Isles for a few hours until they anchored beside a large shard of rock that jutted up out of the ocean. At this point another bell rang, summoning the crew up to the deck.
Captain Ackeridge addressed them all from the bridge. “Captain Steeledge’s scouts have placed today’s supply route a short distance to the east of here. A submersive riftway crosses the path of their course. With a bit of skill we can charge them, slip into the riftway and instantly exit again, popping straight out at their other side to finish the job. Everyone needs to pull their weight for this to work. Don’t let me down.”
Nothing much happened for a while after that. The cannons were made ready and every pistol was loaded. Everyone waited impatiently as the sun dipped in the sky. Bucc stood by the railing nervously, his thoughts drawn to the coming violence no matter what he did to try and district himself. It was only when he felt a hand on his shoulder that he turned around.
The mountainous man beamed down at Bucc with the same childlike grin, but little else about the man retained that look of innocence. A large scar ran down his cheek and neck, and a burnt patch of skin was visible on his chest beneath his open coat. It didn’t seem like he had any hair left at all on his body. He still wore an eyepatch.
“I hear that you’ve been off on an adventure without me. Jesse and Adward too. When did you all get so cool and independent?”
“Replace ‘cool’ with ‘terrified’, and ‘independent’ with ‘someone else did all the hard work’, then maybe it’ll sound close to being accurate. Anyway, it looks like you’ve seen enough adventure for the three of us. What happened?”
“What, this?” Big Tim said, vaguely indicating his everything. “A few little run-ins with the Ashenna. Nothing major.” Despite his words, he seemed very proud of the injuries.
“Nothing major? Ha! Don’t listen to him, Bucc,” came the voice of his dad. The older Jones appeared at Bucc’s side. Namiir slithered up Bucc’s arm and nestled its scaly head into the crook of his neck. “Big Tim here fought off an entire Ashenna crew after the incident on the Seal. It’s only because of him that we were all able to escape. Even Lord Captain Steeledge honoured him as a hero.”
Big Tim was blushing furiously. Bucc couldn’t help but to smile at the sight.
“Thank you for keeping everyone safe. All the old crew seems to be here except for Jesse and Adward. Or Captain Gus. What happened to him?”
Bucc’s dad shrugged. “Nobody’ss seen him since the Seal. The fool wouldn’t flee with the rest of us. Just kept shouting about his gold. If he somehow survived, he never made it here. But then, there’s no money to be made on the losing side of a desperate war.”
A warning signal was raised by the shipmate up in the crowsnest.
“Ashenna ships inbound!” the man called down. “We might have some trouble. I’m counting five ships!”
“Everyone to your places!” Captain Ackeridge ordered. “You all wanted a fight and it looks like you’re going to get one.”
Previous – Chapter 20. The Isles of Frindor.
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