Dying at the hands of his crew was not at all what Brody, Captain of the Sea Mirage, had planned for the day. The swirling depths of the sea threatened to consume him. He stared down into the black water as he balanced precariously on a plank extending from the side of his ship. His mutinous crew, the cutthroat bunch of traitors, watched with bated breath as he teetered on the edge with his hands and feet tied by coarse rope. Blast it all! This wasn’t turning out to be a good day. He’d just recently inherited the title of Captain of the Sea Mirage when Rowen, one of the triplet bastards of King Edward III, abandoned his crew for the sake of a wench. Now, just as quickly as Brody had inherited his good fortune, it was about to be taken away. “Go on – jump,” demanded the rough voice of the oldest pirate on the ship, Old Man Muck. Having always held a grudge that he wasn’t captain, Muck never stopped trying to make the Sea Mirage his. He was an angry man with a quick temper, no morals at all, and he never thought about anyone but himself. Aye, men like Muck were what gave pirates a bad reputation. Muck poked Brody in the back with the tip of his sword, edging him forward. If Brody’s hands and feet hadn’t been tied, he’d take on Muck even without a weapon to save his ship. The Sea Mirage was the only home he had known for most his life. Unfortunately, these fickle pirates were also the only family he had now.
Things couldn’t possibly get any worse. It was early morning as far as Brody could tell. The fog was thick, and he could barely see through the mist as they sailed into the white abyss. “God’s eyes, what’s the matter with you, Muck?” spat Brody, turning his head to talk to the old man. “How did you and Lucky get aboard my ship in the first place? For that matter, how did you escape the dungeons of Hermitage Castle in Scotland after Rowen put you there to stay?” Brody needed to stall for time and, hopefully, come up with a plan quickly. He’d been woken from a sound sleep by Muck and Lucky who must have come aboard at the last port before the ship set sail for the night. He’d been dragged out of bed and removed from his cabin before he even knew what happened. Although he’d fought back, Muck and Lucky managed to tie him up and haul him to the side of the ship. His crew had done nothing at all to help him. Instead, they just stood and watched.
Cowards! None of this made any sense. “I told you, Rowen set us free,” growled Muck, spittle dribbling down into his scraggly brown beard as he spoke. Muck’s teeth were broken and rotten. His clothes were dirty and ripped. Brody could smell the stench emanating from the man’s body all the way from the end of the plank. “That’s a lie,” growled Brody. “Rowen is the one who put you two behind bars for attempting mutiny when the ship was under his command. He would never set you free.” “It was his brother, Reed, who let us out,” admitted Lucky. Muck shot him a menacing look, squinting his eyes as he spoke to his sidekick.
“Shut your mouth, Lucky. I’m the one doing the talking, not you. Say another word, and I’ll add to that scar on your neck.” “Sorry, Muck.” Lucky rubbed the long scar across his neck that Rowen had given him years ago. His vocal chords had been cut, and Lucky was very lucky to be alive – hence it earned him the nickname. His voice suffered from the injury and sounded raspy and frightening when he spoke. “I was right,” said Brody. “Rowen didn’t set you free. Crew, do you hear that?” He peered through the fog, his eyes traveling from Big Garth – his cook, over to Spider – the barrel-chested pirate with the hairy arms.
Then his gaze settled on the tall pirate named Ash who walked with a limp. “Bid the devil, do something to help me instead of standing there watching!” “I don’t know,” said the pirate named Odo. His eye nervously twitched as he studied Brody. “Old Man Muck does deserve to be cap’n.” “He’s got a point there,” said Spider. “Rowen deserted us, and now you won’t even let us raid. Muck would never leave his ship for a woman. Neither would he keep us from raiding.” The crew grew edgy as they discussed it. “No matter if he deserted us, Rowen is no longer the captain of the Sea Mirage,” Brody reminded them.
“The ship is mine now.” “Not for long,” said Muck. The crew was anxious to raid once again, so they sided with Muck. The only crewmember that stayed loyal to Brody was the boy named Link. Link had been an orphan when Rowen took him onto the ship years ago as part of their dysfunctional family of less-than-honorable men. “Leave Brody alone,” shouted Link. “He’s never done a thing to any of you.” The boy was only four and ten years of age but had the courage of any of the seasoned men aboard the ship. “Step back, boy, or you’ll be walking the plank with him,” warned Muck, swatting a bug at the back of his neck. “Nay, I won’t!” Link daringly pushed Muck.
It was a foolish move on his part, but all the distraction Brody needed. With his feet still tied together, Brody hopped down to the deck, throwing his body at Muck. As he did, Muck turned around with his sword raised. Using the blade to his advantage, Brody jabbed his arms upward, running the ropes that bound his wrists together, across the edge of the sword. He managed to cut his bindings and push away from the blade at the same time. Quickly, his nimble fingers removed the ropes from around his wrists. He dove for Muck, taking the old man down on the deck of the ship. The crew parted, watching the fight. They cheered and shouted. To them, this was naught more than a morning of entertainment.
Brody struggled with Muck, throwing a few punches. Two arms grabbed him from behind, and he turned to see Lucky helping the old man. With all the kicking and squirming, the ropes at Brody’s ankles loosened. He reached down to free himself. Seeing a dagger on the deck, he snatched it up. But when he stood, Muck was holding his blade to Link’s throat. “Reed might have told us not to kill you, but he never said a word about not killing the boy.” Muck smirked, finding the leverage he needed. Link’s brown eyes showed courage and also devotion to Brody. As much as Brody was itching to fight Muck, he wouldn’t risk the boy’s life.
“Nay! Let him go,” said Brody. “I agree, let the boy go,” shouted Big Garth, coming to Link’s rescue. The crew moved in closer. “If a single one of you makes a move, the boy is dead,” warned Muck. Lucky held up his sword, protecting Muck’s back. “You heard him. Back off.” “What do you want?” asked Brody, hating the way the seedy pirate was using the life of the innocent boy for leverage. “Jump overboard of your own accord, or the boy dies.” Muck brought the blade closer to Link’s throat and drew blood.
“This ship is mine now.” “Nay!” Brody secretly slipped the dagger into the back of his breeches when they weren’t watching. Then he held his hands up in the air. “Don’t hurt him. Please.” Link was like a younger brother to Brody. He didn’t deserve to die. Brody did not doubt that Muck would kill Link if he didn’t do as instructed. “Don’t make Brody jump,” begged Link. “There’s an island nearby,” said Muck.
“If you can swim faster than the sharks, you might have a chance to make it there alive. Do it, and mayhap both of you will live.” “What do you say, Brody?” Lucky talked without looking back, still holding his sword up toward the crew. Brody didn’t have a chance in hell of beating Muck if his crew wasn’t behind him. The crew had always been loyal to Rowen, but Muck had somehow convinced them to follow him instead. Then again, the pirates had known Muck longer. They had once been under the command of Muck’s brother, One-Eyed Ron. Respect was something that had to be earned amongst pirates and thieves. Brody had lived with them for over ten years, but hadn’t been captain long enough to earn their trust. “All right.
I’ll do it,” he agreed, seeing no other way out of the situation. “Just promise me you won’t hurt the boy.” “I’ll not make you any promises,” grunted Muck. “But since I need a lackey aboard the ship, the boy won’t be killed unless you give me trouble.” “I’m going.” Brody nodded, looking out at the water. If only he could think of another plan. The end of the red cloth covering his hair blew in the breeze as he slowly made his way back down the plank, wanting to kill Muck for this. But Brody was one man against a crew that had turned mutinous. There was no hope for him or Link unless he followed Muck’s command.
“Jump,” ordered Muck from behind him. Brody lined up his booted feet at the edge of the plank, feeling like he was going to his death. Could he swim to the island to save himself? He had an idea where they were, but in this fog, he couldn’t be sure. How would he even know if he was swimming in the right direction? He looked down to the sea beneath him, not able to believe this was the way he would die. Water had always meant freedom to him, but now it was nothing more than a death sentence. “Wait! Take this.” Lucky used his foot and slid a goatskin across the plank to Brody. “What are you giving him, you fool?” asked Muck. “It’s just some ale to help him survive if he happens to make it to the island,” Lucky explained. Brody reached down and picked up the goatskin, slipping the strap over his shoulder.
“Do it!” shouted Muck. Link whimpered. When Brody glanced back, he saw more blood running from the boy’s neck. His eyes scanned his crew members one by one, looking for someone who would have a change of heart. Not a one of them dared to make eye contact with him. Instead, they looked at the deck or off into the fog. Nay, none of them had a heart. He should have known better. His situation was hopeless. “You won’t get away with this Muck!” Brody promised.
“I’ll not only survive, but I swear I’ll return and kill you for this. You’d better sleep with one eye open because the next shadow in the mist will be me, coming to slit your throat.” Then Brody turned around and dove into the water, only hoping there was an island nearby. If not, he’d never get the chance to kill Muck after all. Chapter 1 Brody eyed the threatening sky as he tied off the last vine holding together his rough-crafted raft. He’d made the escape vessel from saplings and driftwood that he’d found on the deserted island after he was fortunate enough to make it to shore. Thankfully he’d had a dagger hidden in his waistbelt, or he wouldn’t have even been able to make this. He also had the goatskin filled with ale. Of course, the ale was long gone by now, even with the way he’d rationed it. Every time it rained, he collected rainwater to drink.
He found some roots, acorns, brambles, roan berries and haw – the fruit of the hawthorn tree to eat. Still, the limited amount of food left him starving. He’d tried to fish, but without a net, he had little to no results. Brody never thought he’d be stranded for so long or he would have carved a notch in a tree for every day he’d been there. One day melded into the next, and he’d started getting dizzy and confused lately. He was no longer sure if he had been there a week or a month or possibly longer. With the fog they’d been having, sometimes he couldn’t even tell if it was day or night. He had to get off of this island soon! He thought for sure a passing ship would have rescued him by now. He’d been burning whatever he could find trying to make a signal fire high enough. Each day the sun would come out for a short while to dry the wood, but when the sun went down, it would rain all night, dousing whatever flame he had.
If he didn’t get help soon, he might as well dig his own grave next. Thunder rumbled overhead, not roiling him at all. Nothing seemed to bother him anymore. The driving force that kept him alive was the fact he wanted to live so that he could kill Muck. Now he understood Rowen’s vengeance against the king all these years. Vengeance was a powerful motivator and gave men the will to survive to see justice done. No one was going to treat him this way and live to tell about it. He vowed he would kill Muck and then take back his ship if it was the last thing he ever did. A movement on the water caught his attention, causing his head to snap upward. Straining his eyes, he was sure he could make out the silhouette of a passing ship in the mist.
Could he use his raft and make it to the ship before it disappeared? Thunder rumbled again. With no choice but to try, he threw caution to the wind. Since he hadn’t seen a passing ship the entire time he’d been here, this might be his only chance to get off this island. He jumped up and ran to the shore, pulling his wooden raft behind him. Traipsing into the water with his shoes on, he positioned his raft and breathed a sigh of relief. This was it. He would be rescued from this hell today. He grabbed the homemade oars that were nothing more than branches with woven fronds on the ends. After placing them on the raft, he pushed the little raft out into deeper water. Then he raised a leg and climbed aboard.
With the wind picking up from the approaching storm, he headed out to sea. This was by no means the Sea Mirage, but the feeling of sailing on the water filled him with life. The winds picked up even more, and before he knew it, it started to rain. He used an oar on first one side of the raft and then the other, trying not to lose sight of the ship in the distance. To his dismay, the ship he’d seen kept getting farther and farther away. He just couldn’t catch it. Why did he think they’d ever notice him when he was naught more than a speck on the vast sea? No one even knew he was there. At this rate, he’d never make it to the ship before it disappeared. Thinking of how he could move faster, he realized he had to use the wind to his advantage. Using his oars, he tied them together with more spare vines.
He then removed his white tunic and made a sail. Jamming the pole in between a few of the planks of the raft, he managed to erect a mast. Since he was experienced at sailing, he used his skills to make the wind work for him instead of against him. Before long, the ship was not only back in sight, but he was gaining speed. The wind whipped against his face, mixed with rain that bit into his flesh. He held no pride of being the captain of an escape raft. Longing filled his soul to be back on his ship as captain of the Sea Mirage again. Would Rowen ever find out what his old crew did to Brody? Brody would be sure to tell him if he ever made it back to the mainland alive. The ship came into view, but fog was settling over the water making it hard to see. From what he could tell, it wasn’t a large ship.
It didn’t look to be a cargo ship but rather a vessel used for fishing. It didn’t matter. They could take him back to the mainland. He wasn’t choosy at a time like this. Once he stepped foot on solid land again, he’d be able to hunt down and kill Old Man Muck. The rain pelted down and a cold shiver ran up his spine. The wind felt relentless against his body. He tried to tuck strands of hair back under his headscarf so he could keep a close eye on his target. He did all he could to hold on to the raft and sail it directly over to the fishing ship. But with the fog rising from the water even thicker than before, it made it hard to see.
He had to catch the ship, or he was naught more than shark bait. This was his only chance to survive. Gwendolen Fisher reeled in the fishing lines, trying to help secure her father’s boat before the storm hit. Dressed in breeches and boots instead of a gown, and with her hair covered with a head cloth and hat, she fit right in with the rest of her father’s crew. Ever since the death of her mother, Gwen had wanted to stay as close to her father as possible. She was his only daughter and also his only child anymore as far as he was concerned. Her three older brothers, Aaron, Tristan, and Mardon, had left and no one knew where they went. At one time her brothers had helped her father fish. Together, they’d sold their catches to townsfolk, merchants, and even nobles. It was a simple life, and they were far from wealthy, but the business kept food on the table and a roof over their heads.
As her brothers grew older, they had their minds set on so much more than just a handful of coins a week, or a boatload of smelly fish. One day they decided to go their own ways. They were looking for more in life than their father could ever give them. They wanted fame, wealth, and excitement in their lives. Gwen only wanted her family together again – something she would never have. “Gwen, get inside the cabin,” called out her father, lifting a bottle of whisky to his lips. He’d started to partake of the drink right after her mother died. Cato Fisher was a proud man, and could not accept the fact he’d lost not only a wife but three strong, able-bodied sons as well. Nay, he was hardly ever sober anymore since he drank to ease the pain of losing so much. Her heart went out to him.
She decided she would take the place of the sons he lost. The sails whipped in the wind and cold rain fell from the heavens. The swells of the waves kept getting higher. Their little fishing ship was naught but a victim on the turbulent sea. “I’m all right, Father,” she yelled into the wind. “I’m just as capable as the rest of your crew. I want to help.” “Gwen, listen to him,” shouted Leo, the eldest man of the crew. He was her father’s age and also his best friend. “Get off the deck before you’re blown overboard,” called out Flann, always being so bossy.
Flann never liked the fact her father had brought her along on the fishing trips in the first place. The other two men tolerated Gwen and, at times, even treated her as if she were their daughter. “I’m going to help, so we don’t lose our catch.” She yanked at one side of the net filled with fish, while the quietest of the crew, Gilroy, helped her to haul it aboard. Gwen was a small woman and hadn’t the strength at seven and ten years of age to do the work of a mature man. Although she tried her hardest, her fingers slipped. The ropes cut into her hands making her cry out. If she held on any longer, she risked losing a finger. Without another choice, she loosened her hold, and with it went the net as it fell back into the water. Her heart sank when she realized because of her; they’d just lost their entire catch of fish.
“Dammit, Gwen, I told you to let the men do that! Why don’t you ever listen?” Her father tied the wheel to keep the ship on course and then hurriedly made his way across the wet deck toward her. His step wavered more from the drink than from the tossing of the ship. Still, he clutched the bottle of whisky in his hand, not willing to put it down. “Get below deck before I have to tie you to a mast,” he growled. “Nothing can stop me from helping, and you know it.” Gwen looked over the rail to see the hoard of fish they’d caught swimming back out to sea. It was an unfortunate accident that would cost them a day’s work. As she watched the turbulent sea take on a life of its own, the fog parted momentarily giving her a glimpse of something on the water. Making her way closer to the rail, she held on tightly, straining her eyes to see what was floating toward the ship. It was dark and mysterious and almost looked like a man aboard a raft.
“Father, Look! I think it’s a man.” She pointed anxiously to the object, eager to share her find. Her father didn’t look. Instead, he reached out and yanked her away from the sidewall. “If you don’t start listening to me, I’m going to leave you ashore next time.” He dragged her toward the hatch that led to the bowels of the ship. “Nay, there’s something there I tell you,” she said again. Before her father could ignore her a second time, someone called to them from down in the water. “Ahoy! Can you hear me?”