Authors: Geoff Rodkey
But the servants managed to get us some cheese rolls and jelly bread without getting shaken down by soldiers, and we ate the food in silence, sitting on the trunk.
She kept watching me out of the corner of her eye. It made me uncomfortable, and I wanted to ask her to cut it out. But I didn't want to be rude.
Once we finished eating, the silence got even more awkward. She kept fidgeting with her fingersâthere weren't any rings on them, which was odd, because when I lived at Cloud Manor, she'd always worn a lot of themâand I could tell she was gearing up for some kind of speech.
“I want you to know,” she finally began, “that Millicent cares for you very, very much.”
That was how she said it. With a fat, unspoken
at the end.
And after the
“When you're at the age you are, feelings between boys and girls can be veryâ”
“We don't have to talk about this.”
Or I will get very angry.
“I just want you to knowâ”
“No, really. Please.”
“What are you planning to do now?”
Bust the slaves out of that mine.
“Are you going back to Deadweather? Or staying here?”
I had no idea. I hadn't thought about it.
“Or will your uncle send you to school?”
I nodded, because I knew it was what she wanted to hear. “Yes. I'm going to school. Soon as possible.”
“Just promise me one thing: that you won't become a pirate.”
“I won't,” I said.
“That's good.” She put a hand on my back and rubbed it gently.
“If you're ever tempted, just rememberâyour mother wouldn't want it.”
I thought about that.
“Did you know my mother?”
“NoÂ .Â .Â .” She pulled me to her in a one-armed hug. She meant it to be comforting. But it just made me want to squirm.
“But I've known enough mothers to be sure of it. She'dÂ .Â .Â .” Mrs. Pembroke paused. Then took a deep breath and sighed it out.
“She'd want you to be happy. And be able to just be a boy. And not have to grow up before you were ready. All these things that happenedÂ .Â .Â .”
It sounded like she was starting to cry, but I was barely listening.
I was too distracted by thinking about my mother. How was I supposed to know what she wanted for me? I didn't even know what she looked like.
“They shouldn't have happened to you,” she said. “You're just a child. It wasn't right! It wasn't fairÂ .Â .Â .”
She was really bawling now, gripping me like a drowning woman. I wriggled my arm loose so I could pat her on the back.
“It's okay,” I said. “Lots of things aren't fair. You don't have to get all worked up about it.”
SHE WOUND UP CRYING
until the ship came and took her away. And she wouldn't stop apologizing to me, even though I kept telling her that she hadn't done anything wrong. I did my best to make her feel better, and tell her what she wanted to hear, but it didn't seem to do much good.
And it was distracting. I just wanted to be left alone so I could think, but by the time she got on the ship, I didn't have any energy left for it.
Once the ship got under way, I walked up the hill to Mr. Dalrymple's to rejoin the others. Millicent was beyond gratefulâshe tried to hug me, but I'd had more than enough hugging for one day. And I didn't want to talk about what had happened.
I felt twisted and drained, like a rag that had been used to sop up a mess and then wrung out too hard.
Mr. Dalrymple was in the middle of a lesson, which was a relief, because it meant we could slip out without answering any questions about what we were up to. We went back into town and spent the rest of the afternoon gathering supplies, then making slings in the hotel room.
Guts couldn't sew with just one hand, so instead he went out, hunted down a guitar, and brought it back to the room to play for the rest of us while we worked. Ordinarily, listening to his guitar would have made me happy.
And the way Millicent was being with meâtrying to make me laugh, and smiling her perfect smile at me, all while generally ignoring Cyrilâshould've put me in a good mood, too.
But it didn't. As the day went on, the wrung-out feeling got worse, and my friends' attempts to cheer me up just made me feel even more wrung out, until finally around dinnertime, I had to leave them and go off by myself.
I walked the streets for a while, wondering where this hole inside me had come from and what I needed to do to fill it up. I tried eating a meal, but I didn't have any appetite.
So I walked some more, until finally my feet took me to a table in a tavern where my uncle was holding court.
He smirked when he saw me coming.
“You're here for the rest of your money?”
“No,” I said. “I'm just here to sit.”
The smirk turned into a smile. He stood up.
“In that case,” he said, “come with me. I know somewhere better.”
HEALY LED ME UP
a winding series of streets into the hills above the fortress, where the houses were set back from the road and so far apart that it was more forest than town. If it hadn't been for the moonlight, we would've needed torches to light our way.
“So how's the plan coming?” he asked as we walked.
I felt a nervous flutter in my stomach. “What plan?” I said.
“Freeing the slaves on Sunrise,” he said. “That's what it's all for, isn't it? The rope, and the darning needlesâyou're making slings? And the oars are for the getaway?”
“Who told you?”
“I guessed. I'm clever that way.” He must have guessed what I was thinking just then, too, because he quickly added, “Don't worry. I'm not going to try to stop you.”
I thought about that for a moment. “Why not?”
“Because I'm not your father. And I'm not your savior. It's not my job to protect you from your own foolishness.”
“You think it's foolish?”
“Honestly? I think it'll be a bloodbath.”
That got me worried enough that I laid out the whole plan for him, in as much detail as we'd worked out. Then I asked him if it still sounded like a bloodbath.
“Hard to say,” he said. “You've obviously done quite a bit of thinking about how to avoid it. But one thing I've learned from experienceâno plan ever goes off without a hitch. And I do wonder if you've considered whether the people you're saving truly deserve it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean the Okalu. They're not exactly pure as Mandar linen.”
“Nobody deserves to be a slave.”
“No. But everybody keeps them.”
“Yes, unfortunately. Everybody.”
I started to tell him that Cartagers didn't. But then I remembered the story he'd toldâand the scarred letter
that was burned into his back.
“It's illegal in Roviaâ”
“And look how well that's working out.”
“But that's justÂ .Â .Â . Well, the Okalu definitely don't keep slaves.”
“Don't they? When you were in the New Lands, did you happen to see any Okalu temples?”
“Really something, aren't they? Mountains, practically. Man-made. Think they built those with volunteers?”
I'd never thought about that before. And it made me angry.
“You don't know they used slaves! You weren't there!”
“No. But the other Natives were. Ever ask a Moku why they hate the Okalu so much? Or a Fingu, or a Flut? Ever wonder why, when the Cartagers first showed up a hundred years ago, the other tribes fell all over themselves to help a bunch of funny-eared, pale-faced foreigners destroy the Okalu Empire? Ever wonder how it became an empire in the first place?”
I wanted to scream. He sounded like Cyril. “So, what, then? The Okalu
to be slaves?!”
“Settle down. I already said they don't. I'm merely pointing outÂ .Â .Â .” He sighed. “Like I seem to do every time we speak, not that it ever seems to sink in with youÂ .Â .Â . that the world's a great deal more complicated than good and evil. And it's worth knowing that before you run off and risk your life to save people you've never even metâoh, blast.”
We'd reached a crossroads. He stood in the middle of it, his head swiveling from one road to the next.
“You'd think I'd rememberÂ .Â .Â . Really should get up here more often.”
“What are we looking for?”
Finally, he chose a direction. I followed him.
“I'm not just doing it to save the Okalu,” I said. “I'm doing it because it's Pembroke's silver mine.”
“AhhhhÂ .Â .Â . Now,
a motivation I can understand.”
“I saw his wife today.”
“She came to town looking for her daughter. I had to convince her to go home.”
“That must have been rather awkward.”
“It really was.”
We kept walking.
“She says she's leaving him. That she and Millicent will never see him again.”
“Can't say I blame them.”
“Do you think it'll hurt him? Pembroke?”
He thought about it. “Yes. I do. But probably not as much as most men. He's got his eyes on a bigger prize, Reggie does.”
“Why do you call him Reggie?”
Instead of answering, he asked a question of his own. “
's had plenty of time to retake Pella by now. Do you think he's managed it?”
“I don't know,” I said. “What do you think?”
“Depends on the quality of the men he's got with him. Most of the Cartagers we fought in Pella were fat and slack. But if that was because he'd taken all his best men with him to fight meÂ .Â .Â . might be he's got a shot.”
A thought occurred to me. “If he succeededâdo you think Pembroke could be dead? Even now?”
“I thinkÂ .Â .Â . that a man like Roger Pembroke has a real talent for self-preservation.”
A high brick wall had appeared on our right a while back, running parallel to the road. Just ahead, a wide iron gate stood in the middle of the wall.
“Ah! Here we are.” My uncle dug in his pocket for a key, which he used to open the gate.
Beyond it, a road led up a tree-lined drive to a red brick house almost big enough to be called a mansion. Healy produced a second key and let us in the front door.
Inside, we couldn't see a thing.
“Hang onÂ .Â .Â . Must be a candelabra somewhereÂ .Â .Â .”
He bumped and banged around in the dark for a while, until finally I heard the scrape of a match. My uncle's face reappeared in the light of the flame. He was holding a five-pronged candelabra, and once he got all its candles lit, he gave me a brief tour of the place.
It was a magnificent house, full of grand rooms that were all strangely empty. Other than a small table in the entryway where the candelabra had been, and a single overstuffed chair by the fireplace in the sitting room, there wasn't a stick of furniture in the whole place.
“I suppose I should buy some one of these days,” Healy said. “Come, see the garden. It's what sold me on the place.”
At the back of the house, a set of glass-paneled doors opened onto a back patio that ran the length of the building. Below it stretched a lawn several acres wide, dotted with low hedges and flower beds intersected by walking paths.
We sat down on the top of the steps and looked out over the moonlit gardens.
“It's beautiful,” I told him.
“Even nicer when the sun's up and you can actually see it,” he told me. “I pay a man to keep the flower beds in shape. For the two afternoons a year when it occurs to me to drop by. Bit of a waste, I guess. Still, after this mess with the bank, it's looking more and more like a wise investment.”
“You really should get some furniture,” I said.
“I knowÂ .Â .Â . I think I just hate shopping. Well, that andâI somehow got it in my head that one day I'd meet the right woman and settle down. And when I did, she'd inevitably want to redecorate, so the smart thing was to wait and let
buy the furniture.
“Trouble was, I never did find her. It's frightfully hard to meet women in my line of work. They tend to run screaming when I approach. Not sure why. Perhaps it's my breath.”
Something popped into my head that made me smile. I debated whether or not to say it out loud.
“NoÂ .Â .Â .” I told him. “I think it's your face.”
He laughed. “You've got a keen eye, son. How are you at shopping for furniture?”
“I don't know. I've never done it.”
“You're lucky. It's death.”
I decided it was as good a time as any for the question that I'd come to him to ask.
“What was my mother like?”
“I wondered when you might get around to asking that.” He leaned back, propping himself up on his elbows as he surveyed his shadowy garden.
“My sister, JennyÂ .Â .Â . was warm as a fireÂ .Â .Â . funny as a court jesterÂ .Â .Â . and tough as nails. What did your father tell you about her?”
“Not much of anything,” I said. “He didn't like to talk about her.”
“You know why, don't you?”
“I think because it made him sad.”
“More than sad. He was heartbroken. He loved your mother to the point of madness. And when she died, he never got over itÂ .Â .Â . They were a strange match, in a way. I'm not sure he ever got a single one of her jokes. But he didn't love her any less for that. And I think for her partÂ .Â .Â . his other qualities more than made up for the fact that he wasn't the keenest of wits.”
He thought for a while before he answered. “Trust. That was a big thing with her. She knew your father's heart was good, that he'd stay by her side no matter what. And he did. Even after she was gone, he stuck by herâand that crazy plantation of hers.”
“What do you mean, âhers'?” I'd always thought of it as my dad's plantation.
“That's what it was. The whole thing was her idea.” He chuckled. “Trying to grow ugly fruit in the shadow of a volcanoÂ .Â .Â . At first, I thought it was another one of her jokes. But she was dead serious about it. She actually thought that with enough hard work and strength of will, she could build a legitimate business on an island full of pirates. And I suppose it worked, after a fashion.”
“Not sure how well it's working out now,” I said, thinking of Adonis and the mess I'd left him in back on Deadweather.
Then I had to change the subject in a hurry, before the guilty feeling could get its hooks in me. “She was funny?”
“What kind of funny?”
It took him a while to answer. “The kindÂ .Â .Â . that could make a boy who'd been taken from his parentsÂ .Â .Â . put into chainsÂ .Â .Â . and worked half to deathÂ .Â .Â . feel like life was still worth living. And there was hope for better days, if we just didn't quit.”
He stopped to wipe his eyes. “Oh,Â â. Now I've gotten all sentimental.”
“What did she look like?” I tried to picture her, but the image wouldn't come.
“Brown hair. Brown eyes. Sort of aÂ .Â .Â . crooked mouth. Rather plain, to be honest. Granted, I'm her brother, so maybe there was some physical beauty there I just couldn't see. And she had more than her share of men fall at her feet. But not because of her looks. Strangers would walk past her without a second glance. It was only if they stopped to talk that they were in trouble. That's where the magic of her was.
“There was one boy in particular. A bit older than us, and dashing as all get out. The kind of boy that other boys wanted to be, and girls just wanted to be with. He could've had anyone, and he chose your mother. They were going to be married. But then he got into some ugly business, and she left him over it.”
He laughedâa short, surprised sort of laugh.
“That's where you got it from! It was her.”
“That mule-headed sense of good and evil. Your mother was shot through with it. To a faultâshe spent the last five years of her life trying to get me to quit piracy, and hating me for it when I wouldn't.”
He grimaced. “That's how she was. All or nothing. She was my favorite person in the worldâand it got so she wouldn't even speak to me. Then she had to go and die on me without even saying good-bye.”
Healy looked up at the sky. “Well, Jenny, you finally got your wish.”
It took a moment for me to realize what he meant.
“You're quitting piracy?”
“I have to. I've lost my touch. I mean, look at meâI threw over my crew, I let the Ripper slip freeÂ .Â .Â . I can't even keep you in line.” He shook his head. “It's time to hang it up. Keep that under your hat, though, will you? I haven't told anyone else yet. Got to get my money out of that infernal bank before I make it official, or they'll go on stiffing me to the end of my days.”
“What'll you do? I mean, once you're retired?”
“I don't know.” He looked over his shoulder at the big house behind us. “Buy furniture, I suppose. Or not. It's a slightly depressing thoughtâsitting around here all day, watching the flowers grow.”
We were quiet for a while.
“You could always help free some slaves,” I suggested, trying to make it sound like I was joking. Even though I wasn't.
He chuckled. “Sorry, boy. Pirate or not, I'm nobody's hero. I don't go around saving people out of some overdeveloped sense of right and wrong.”
I thought about that.
“Then why did you save me?”
“I had to,” he said. “You were Jenny's boy.”
He smiled at me, and for a moment I thought he might change his mind.
“And I owed it to her,” he added, “to give you the chance to make the same stupid mistakes she would've made.”
I knew then there was no changing it.
He was only going to save me once. The rest was up to me.