Authors: Geoff Rodkey
“Destroy Roger Pembroke,” I saidâand when I spoke his name, the anger came spilling out of me. “You could stop him! I know you could! I saw how you were with his soldiersâthey love you! Much more than him. And you've
to! If Pembroke takes over the whole New Landsâ”
“âall the better for me.”
Once again, his voice stopped me cold.
“Are you forgetting,” he went on, “that it was my men who helped take Pella for him in the first place?”
“But that wasÂ .Â .Â . beforeâ”
“âhe put a noose around your neck. Yes. And in spite of all that, it's not in my interest to destroy Roger Pembroke. To the contrary. I need to help him.”
I must have looked as nauseated as I felt. Healy let out a weary sigh.
“The Blue SeaÂ .Â .Â . is a complicated place. And not a large one. Sooner or later, everyone's paths cross. Time and again. I've been sailing these waters better than twenty years. And whether you start out as a man's best friendÂ .Â .Â . or his worst enemyÂ .Â .Â . sooner or later, we all end up with our hands in each other's pockets. Does that make any sense to you?”
“I'm not sure,” I said.
“Probably it doesn't. Because you're very young, and I'm going to hazard a guess that you make sense of the world by dividing everything into good and evil. Am I right?”
“No,” I said. “I'm not
“Really,” I insisted. “I know there's gray areas.”
“Do you? All right, then: Roger Pembroke. Good or evil?”
“Evil,” I said instantly.
“No gray there at all?”
I thought back to the last time I'd seen Pembrokeâstanding in front of the whole city of Pella Nonna, spinning a monstrous lie about how it was me, not him, who deserved to hang for the crime of trading in slaves.
Then a whole series of images flashed in my head.
Pembroke smiling across his breakfast table as he sent me to get thrown off a cliffÂ .Â .Â .
Pembroke marching up the road to my house on Deadweather with a company of soldiers, aiming to steal my father's plantation for the treasure he thought was buried thereÂ .Â .Â .
Pembroke in a dark cell, red-faced with rage, his hands around my throatÂ .Â .Â .
And the worst one of all: Pembroke standing at the base of Mata Kalun, giving the order for my father's death.
“No,” I said. “Not him. He's all evil.”
“What about me?”
“Good,” I said.
“Really?” He looked so amused I thought he might break into laughter. “Are you quite aware of how I earn my bread?”
“Gray, then,” I said.
He kept smiling. “But not
gray. Right? I mean, deep down, I must be quite a fellow. The buccaneer with the heart of gold, eh? Good ol' Uncle Burn?”
I couldn't help smiling myself.
Then his smile vanished.
He leaned forward in his chair, his voice low. “I'm a pirate. I rob men for a living. When I have to, I kill them. I've ended more lives than I can count. Most of them not guilty of anything worse than foolishness. And if you think I'm goodÂ .Â .Â . you're a bigger fool than any of them.”
He didn't say it like he was angry. He said it like he was sad.
“For the record, you're absolutely right about Pembroke. That man might just be the devil himself. But the fact of the matter isÂ .Â .Â .”
He leaned back again with another deep sigh.
“I'm neck deep in the devil's business. And so is everybody else who might help you. Unfortunately for your fantasies of justice, right now the only man on the Blue Sea with a ghost of a chance of taking down Roger Pembroke is
And at the moment, he and I are on opposite sides of the chessboard.”
I thought about
He'd been the rightful ruler of Pella Nonnaâbut he'd left the city before the Rovian invasion, taking his two warships with Ripper Jones to hunt down my uncle.
“He doesn't know, does he?” I asked. “He has no idea Roger Pembroke took Pella from him?”
“Not a clue,” said Healy.
“But if he didâwouldn't he stop hunting you? And turn right around and go take his city back?”
“I'm sure he would.”
I was on the edge of my seat, my voice rising with excitement. “So all you have to do is get a message to him! And then he'llâ”
My uncle cut me off with a sharp laugh. “Son, any message I send to
is going to be written on a cannonball. When next I cross
filthy Short-Ear's pathÂ .Â .Â .”
His jaw tightened, his eyes turned dark as coalâand as I looked in them, I finally saw the pirate who'd ended more men than he could count.
“.Â .Â . I'm going to kill him dead. Try to find some good in that.”
“Think I'd better go help with the pump” was all I could think to say.
“I think you'd better.”
I stood up and walked to the door.
Then I turned around. There was that one other thing I needed to be sure he understood.
“There's no needâ”
“âfor saving my life. Again. And my friends' as well.”
The darkness left his eyes. He nodded, just a little.
I turned to leave.
He was standing up, his eyebrows bunched together in a frown.
Twice he started to open his mouth, then stopped.
“EgbertÂ .Â .Â .”
“Egg. Please. I hate the name Egbert.”
“I would, too.” He looked at his feet and sighed again. All those sighs were unnerving. He wasn't the type for it.
“I remember when I met youÂ .Â .Â . ,” he began. “Pembroke was offering five thousand silver for your life. And I thought it was an awfully steep price for a fruit picker's boy.”
He raised his eyes to meet mine.
“But I've just paid ten million gold for you.”
For the first time, my brain fully registered the enormity of what he'd done.
The tears came so fast I didn't even have a chance to fight them.
“Oh, Savior's sake! Don't do that!”
“SorryÂ .Â .Â .”
“No, noâthere's no tears on this shipâwe don'tâhonestly, stop!” He was dashing around the room in a mad search for something to plug up the waterworks.
“I'm sorryÂ .Â .Â .”
!” He finally found a handkerchief, and practically smothered me with it.
I got myself back under control.
“Thank you,” I said again, as soon as I could talk.
He grimaced. “Son, as the Savior is my witness, I don't want your thanks. I only brought up the ten millionÂ .Â .Â .”
He put a hand on my shoulder.
“.Â .Â . because I want you to be worth it.”
Ten Million Worth of Good
The cry rang out from the top of the companionway. Within seconds, the gun deck had filled with a ship-rattling
as a hundred pirates flooded past us to man the cannon. Half a minute more, and there was a full crew in place around every one, all of them loaded and ready to fire.
The four of us just kept turning the stupid crank of the chain pump, sweat running down our faces like water.
If there's a worse job on earth, I never want to find out what it is. We'd been stuck on that pump twelve hours a day for three full days, in six-hour shifts that left us flat on our backs when they ended, and so sore we could barely raise our arms over our heads when it was time to start up again.
But we'd kept at it without complaint, because it was a matter of life and death. The leak in the hold was only getting worseâa carpenter might have been able to shore it up, but Healy had lost his to a musket ball during the invasion of Pella, and for all their skills, none of his crew had the proper training to fix the ruptured patch.
Our only good fortune was that
and Ripper Jones hadn't found us yet.
This was the third time the
's gun crews had gone on alert. The first two times had been triggered by the sight of sails on the horizon. In each case, the ships turned out to be merchantmen who fled at the sight of Burn Healy's shipâand must have been astonished at their luck when they weren't run down and plundered.
Now it was dawn on our fourth day at sea, my friends and I had just started our morning shift at the pump, and I was praying this would be another false alarm. I'd only just decided how to make myself worthy of the ten million gold Healy had paid for my life, and I didn't want to die in a sea battle before I could get started on it.
It was pretty simple, really: all I had to do was destroy Roger Pembroke.
Simple, but not easy.
And it had taken most of those three days to work out the logic of it. When I first started thinking it overâas much as it was possible to think while turning a heavy crank for six hours straightâI figured Healy's alliance with Pembroke made destroying him a nonstarter in terms of paying my debt to my uncle.
None of my friends suggested it, either. They all had their own ideas.
“You can find the Fist of Kaâ” Kira paused to suck in a lungful of air on the crank's downstroke “âand restore it to my people.”
“That's good for the Okalu,” I huffed between my own gulps of breath. “But how's it worth ten million to Healy?”
“Rest of the Fire King's treasureÂ .Â .Â . might be worth ten
million,” Guts panted. One of the crew had helped him wrap a cloth over the stump of his hand so he'd have some cushion when he pushed down on the pump handle, but it was still much tougher going for him than for the rest of us. “Find the treasureÂ .Â .Â . ye can pay him back from your share.”
That seemed logical. But something about it didn't quite fit, and it took me until the beginning of the next shift to put my finger on why.
“I don't think he actually wants me to pay him back,” I said. “Burn Healy doesn't care about money.”
to that! He's aÂ â pirate!”
“But if money's so important to him,” I pointed out, “why'd he give up so much of it for me? For that matterÂ .Â .Â . why save me in the first place? If his crew left Pella without getting paid, he must have, too. Think how much
he care about?” Kira asked.
I spent almost a full day thinking about that as I worked the crank or lay splayed out, exhausted, between shifts.
“Honor,” I said finally.
“That's what Healy's Code is all aboutâhonor, and putting the good of your crew ahead of yourself. That one time he got angry with me, before the vote, it was because he thought I was being selfish and cowardly. So I've got to be the opposite of that. Selfless and brave. Helpful to others. Honorable.”
Adonis snorted. “Want to be honorable, please ye thanks?
can tell ye how, please.”
My brother had taken to heart our uncle's advice about not being a fathead. He'd been on his best behavior ever since, and he'd started peppering his speech with strange words (for my brother, anyway) like
because he knew using them was part of being respectful to people.
He hadn't quite gotten the hang of where to put them in a sentence, though. So they kept cropping up in odd places whenever he spoke.
“How's that?” I asked him.
“Go back to Deadweather thanks, help me run the plantation like ye promised please.”
Before my father died, I'd promised him I'd get the plantationâwhich I'd handed over to the field pirates who worked it in exchange for their help against Pembrokeâback on its feet again.
But it was likely to be a near-impossible job. And I'd never much cared for the place to begin with. Going back to live there with Adonis and the field pirates was the last thing I wanted to do. Just thinking about it put a knot of dread in my gut.
Even so, I knew I had that feeling of dread because Adonis was right. I'd made a promise. And holding myself to it was the honorable thing.
It took a while for me to figure out a way around that.
“I've got to avenge Dad's death,” I told Adonis the next day.
“By destroying Roger Pembroke.”
It wasn't just honorable because he'd killed my father. If Pembroke had his way, he'd turn the entire New Lands into a continent-sized version of Sunrise Islandâa rich man's paradise, rotten to the core and built by slave labor.
If I could bring him down, it'd mean a better life for thousands of people in the New Lands. Maybe more. Maybe a lot more.
As bad at math as I was, I felt sure that if you added up all the good it would do for all those people, you'd get within spitting distance of ten million gold.
And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to meâalthough I couldn't have told you whyâthat even if he wouldn't do the job himself, my uncle would approve of it.
Kira certainly approved. Not only was Pembroke responsible for her own father's death, but destroying him meant stopping the slave trade that kept her people either under the thumb of Pembroke's Moku allies on the mainland or imprisoned in his silver mine on Sunrise Island.
Guts was fine with taking down Pembroke, too, “long's we find that
treasure while we're at it.”
I had my doubts about the Fire King's treasure. After seeing Pembroke blow up in a rage when he translated the map that supposedly led to it, I no longer believed the treasure and the Fist of Ka existedâat least, not in the way the legend promised.
But Kira still had faith.
“Of course we will find the treasure,” she told Guts. “If we can restore the Fist to my people, it will put an end to Pembroke's evil.”
I figured there was no point in arguing about the treasure for the moment. And we had to quit talking about the whole thing anyway, because it was making Adonis upset. He couldn't come up with a good reason why I shouldn't avenge our father's death, but the thought that I might not stick around to help with the ugly fruit plantation turned him red-faced and sputtery, and his
started to come out sounding like curses.
So we worked the pump in silence after that, except for Kira's whispered prayers to Ka at every sunrise and sunset. I spent the rest of the time trying to puzzle out how I was going to go about destroying Pembrokeâand got nowhere, because other than somehow getting a message to
so he'd quit chasing my uncle and take his warships back to Pella to attack Pembroke, I didn't have the slightest idea where to begin.
NOW, ON THE MORNING
of the fourth day at sea, the crews were on alert againâonly this time, it wasn't because there was a ship on the horizon.
The crews amidships turned as one, away from their cannon. Unfastening a dozen giant oars from the ceiling, they began to maneuver them out through the middle gun ports on either side.
As I watched them prepare the ship for rowing, it dawned on me why the air that morning had turned so hot and smothering, with no breeze coming through the ports.
We'd finally reached Deadweather Island. For the moment, we were safe. And I was nearly home.
After the ship docked, four of Healy's men relieved us at the pump. We made our way to the weather deck, stretching our weary muscles and blinking in the morning sun that burned through the island's stifling haze.
The pirate haven of Port Scratch looked pretty much the way it had when I'd left: a collection of filthy, rotting shacks clustered around a crude port. It was unusually quietâjust one other ship, the
was docked along with the
and the streets were mostly empty except for Healy's crew, who were streaming on and off the ship on various errands.
Healy was standing near the companionway, issuing orders. Seeing us eye the pirates on the dock with concern, he smiled.
“Don't worry. They won't kill you unless you give them a fresh reason. Your time at the pump saw to that.”
“What is that awful smell?” Kira asked, wrinkling her nose. She was the only one of us who'd never been on Deadweather before.
“Mostly, it's the volcano,” I said. “That, and a lack of cleaning up.”
Kira's eyes bulged as she raised them skyward and got her first look at the smoke-belching summit that made the whole island reek of rotten eggs.
“Please don't worry, thank ye,” Adonis told her. “She don't never blow. Just stinks up the place, thank ye.”
“Headed back to the plantation, then?” Healy asked us.
We all looked at each other. We hadn't talked about where we'd go once we reached Deadweather.
“Please, yeh, thanks.”
I looked at Guts. He gave me a shrug. “Where else we gonna put up?”
“Looks like the plantation,” I told Healy.
“Have you got everything you need? You all right for money?”
I shrugged. “Kind of.”
“Well, how much do you have?”
We all looked at each other again.
Healy sighed and dug in his pocket for a fistful of coins, which he handed to me.
“If you need anything else, we'll likely be in port another day or so. Patching things up, possibly making an ally”âhe glanced over at the
as he said thatâ“and then we'll be headed to Edgartown for more of the same. In the meantime, if you come across a decent carpenter, send him my way. I could use the help fixing that breach.”
He gave me a friendly pat on the back. Then he did the same to the others.
When he reached Adonis, he grasped my brother by his shoulders and looked him in the eye with a serious but kind expression.
“Keep it up, son. It's hard work being a good man. But you've got it in you.” He glanced up at the sky. “Your mother's watching. Make her proud.”
I got a little lump in my throat at the mention of our mother.
Adonis did, too. “Thank ye, please,” he told Healy in a scratchy voice.
“You're quite welcome, thank you very please,” said Healy with a smirk.
Then Spiggs called to him from across the deck, and he left us to make our way off the ship alone.
All of a sudden, I didn't want to leave. The thought of parting ways with Burn Healy, for the first time since I'd learned he was my uncle, didn't sit well.
Not that I had much of a choice. It wasn't like he'd asked me to stay. And sooner or later, he'd be shooting it out with Ripper Jones and
I didn't want to be anywhere near that battle if I could help it.
Even soÂ .Â .Â .
Before I left him, I had to make sure of something.
The others were already on the gangway.
“Just one second!” I called out to them. Then I ran across the deck to where Healy and Spiggs were talking.
My uncle heard me coming. By the time I reached him, he'd already turned toward me. His eyebrows were furrowed together, and he had a pained look in his eye.
“I'm sorry, sonâthere's dirty work afoot, and it's no place for childrenâI mean, I would if I could, butâ”
“It's not that,” I said.
“Oh.” He looked a little flustered. “Then what?”
“I've made a decision,” I told him. “I'm going to destroy Roger Pembroke. Or die trying.”
He almost smiled. But not quite.
“Well, in that caseÂ .Â .Â .” He dug in his pocket for a moment. “Take another five gold. You'll need it.”