Authors: Geoff Rodkey
He dropped the coins into my hand. Then he ruffled the hair on the top of my head and returned to his conversation without another word. He had a job to do.
And so did I.
THINGS HAD CHANGED
at the ugly fruit plantation since we'd been away, and not for the better.
The lower fields were shaggy and overgrown, like nothing had been pruned in ages. Harvesting hooks lay here and there, spotty with rust. And there wasn't a field pirate in sight, although I could hear hoarse voices yelling at each other down near the barracks.
As we approached the house, the first thing I noticed was that the shark's jaws Dad had hung over the front door were gone.
Then I realized the front door was gone, too.
Next to where the door used to be, there were two cannonball-sized holes in the wall. So it probably shouldn't have come as such a surprise when we stepped inside and discovered a cannon in the middle of the living room.
It was surrounded by a thick carpet of shattered bottles, chicken bones, bent playing cards, and some spectacularly broken furniture. Only the couch was more or less in one piece, along with the legless house pirate who was asleep on it with a copy of
Principles of Citrus Cultivation
open across his chest.
“Back off, ye crapsacks!”
He sprang to his feetâactually, his stumps, which ended where most people's upper thighs areâbrandishing a knife that must have been hidden under the book.
Then he realized who we were.
AndÂ .Â .Â . Savior save us, is that Adonis? Thought ye was dead!”
Adonis was furious. “Wot'd ye do to the house, ye stupidâ”
“Respectâ” I reminded him.
thank ye very much
!” he finished, spitting out the phrase in a way that gave it pretty much the opposite meaning from its usual one.
Quint looked sheepish. “If I'd known ye was comin', I wouldaÂ .Â .Â .”
“.Â .Â . not blown holes in the wall?” I suggested.
He shook his head sadly. “Bad night, that was. Lessons learned, I tell ye.”
Then his eyes landed on Kira, and his face brightened. He vaulted himself up onto the arm of the couch and stuck out his hand.
“Hello, luv. Don't believe we've met. Quint Bailey, jack-of-all-trades. Don't mind the legs. Clever men get by without 'em.”
Kira shook his hand warily. “Kira Zamorazol.”
“You are easy on the eyes, darlin'.” He turned to wink at me. “Know how to pick 'em, don't ye, Egbert?”
Guts didn't care for that. “Back off, ye
billi glulo porsamora
Quint just grinned at him. “Look who's been hangin' round Short-Ears!” Then he nodded at Guts's stump. “Where'd yer hook get off to?”
“Had it pinched by Natives,” Guts muttered.
“Bought it off Ozzy, didn't ye? Got himself a new one down in the Scratch a while back. Prob'ly sell that to ye as well, now he's outta money.”
“Wot the deuce!?”
Adonis had wandered off into the den, and judging by the fury in his voice, what he'd found there must not have been pleasant.
“I was plannin' to clean that up!” Quint yelled back at him. “Soon's I can find the wheelbarrow,” he added under his breath.
“What on earth is going on around here?” I asked Quint.
He looked pained. “Why don't I fix ye a meal? Better we talk on a full stomach.”
LIKE MOST OF QUINT'S COOKING,
the stew he put in front of us was filling but not exactly tasty, and we had to eat it fast before it hardened. Most of the dining chairs had vanished, so we stood around the butcher's table in the kitchen while he caught us up on what had happened.
Leaving fifty field pirates alone with nobody in charge, several crates of weapons, and enough money to get drunk for weeks had turned out to be, no surprise, a recipe for disaster. In addition to nearly wrecking the house, nobody had done a lick of work in the fields for six weeks, and what should have been a manageable case of planter's blight had now spread over enough of the upper orchard that it was threatening to ruin the entire crop.
The only good news was that the field pirates' money was all gone, so they couldn't buy any more rum unless they went back to work. And somebodyâQuint wasn't sure whoâhad been levelheaded enough to steal all the weapons in the dead of night and dump them over the cliff at Rotting Bluff.
But not before the fifty men had been reduced to thirty-six, mostly due to arguments over card games.
“Fact of the matter is,” admitted Quint, “none of us is what ye'd call captain material. We can follow orders all right, 'specially with a hard stick backin' 'em up. But leave us be to make our own rulesÂ .Â .Â . don't go so well.”
“What about Otto?” He was the foreman, and he'd run a pretty tight ship in the past.
“He, ahhhÂ .Â .Â . wound up wrong side of the cannon. That rule yer dad had 'bout nobody havin' guns? Smart.” Quint nodded appreciatively. “No drinkin' an' gamblin' was another smart one, come to think of it. Reckon it's time to get back to that.”
“Gonna get back to all of it,” said Adonis firmly. “Me and Egbert are in charge now. Gonna set things right round here, thank ye please.”
“Dunno how the lads gonna take that,” said Quint. “By now, they's good and used to not havin' no boss on the plantation.”
“But there's not going to
a plantation if this keeps up,” I said. “It'll fall apart completely.”
The whole situation was making me feel angryâand helpless, which was worse. Fortunately, Mung showed up just then, with a smile that filled his whole face, and gave me a big bear hug.
Of all the busted-down pirates who'd worked the fields for my dad, Mung was my favorite. He was missing a good chunk of his skull, which left him unable to talk in more than a gurgle, but even so, we'd always understood each other pretty well.
After he'd said hello to Adonis and Guts, and I'd introduced him to Kira, he asked me a question. The words were incomprehensible, but I got the gist of it. And I was too tired and beaten down to be anything but honest.
“It's a mess, Mung,” I said. “I don't even know where to start.”
He gave me a kind smile. Then he patted me on the shoulder and told me, in his gurgling way, that it was all going to be fine and I should get some sleep.
I looked at my haggard, heavy-lidded friends. It was only late afternoon, but we were all beyond exhausted from the past few days of hard labor on the
“Let's just get some rest,” I said. “Deal with things in the morning.”
My bedroom was only a few steps away. I headed for it, glad to be able to lie down in my own bed for the first time in ages.
“I'd be careful openin' that if I wasâ”
I pushed the door open before Quint could finish his sentence, and I was looking back over my shoulder at him when the monkey jumped on my head and started trying to claw my face off.
The next few seconds were pretty chaoticânot to mention painfulâbut Mung and Guts managed to peel the little monster off my forehead and heave it back into the bedroom, then slam the door shut before it had a chance to mount a counterattack.
“Yeh, that's Clem,” said Quint by way of explanation. “One o' the lads bought him down in the Scratch. But he don't much like people, so, ah, livin' in the barracks didn't go over. Really took to yer room, tho'âhappy as a pig in poop in there. Well, monkey in poop. There
quite a lot of poop. He don't come out much 'cept to steal food.”
“I think I'll sleep upstairs,” I said.
IT WAS A LONG WALK
up those stairs. I felt like I'd lost before I even got started.
I couldn't leave my brother with a mess like this. But I had no idea how to fix it.
And how on earth was I going to take down Roger Pembroke if I couldn't even take down a two-foot monkey in my own bedroom?
When I reached Dad's room, I didn't dare look inside, let alone sleep there, for fear I'd go to pieces at the memory of him. So I went to my sister Venus's old room.
There was a foot-wide hole burned through the middle of her mattress. Somebody must've poured rum on the fire to put it out, because the whole room stank like a Port Scratch tavern.
I curled up on the edge of the bed and wondered how my sister was doing.
We'd left Venus back in the jungle, raging crazy as she lorded it over the Moku. They were treating her like a queen, and she thought that's what she was. But it was all a mistake. Somehow, the Moku had gotten the idea that Venus was the Dawn Princessâa goddess worshiped by Kira's Okalu tribe, the archenemies of the Moku. So the Moku were keeping my sister fat and happy until the rainy season came, when they planned to sacrifice her to their Thunder God, Ma.
As I thought about her, a nauseating lump of guilt started to grow in my stomachâbecause I knew that no matter how cruel and stupid Venus had been to me growing up, it was my duty as her brother to save her.
Just like it was my duty to Adonis to stick around and try to help him untangle the mess that was the ugly fruit plantation.
But I was going to leave both my brother and sister in the lurch. Because I had to stop Roger Pembroke. Even though I had no idea how to do it and wasn't even tough enough to stop a monkey from pooping all over my bedroom.
It was too much. If I'd had an ounce of energy left, I would've spent it bursting into tears over how helpless and overwhelmed I felt.
I was kidding myself to think I'd ever be worth ten million gold, to Healy or anybody else.
The thing to do was to run away.
If I was lucky, she'd still be on Sunrise Island. And that was just a few hours' sail from Deadweather.
I could sneak down to Port ScratchÂ .Â .Â . hire a boat with the money my uncle gave meÂ .Â .Â . slip into SunriseÂ .Â .Â . find MillicentÂ .Â .Â . persuade her to run away with meÂ .Â .Â .
Just the two of usÂ .Â .Â . togetherÂ .Â .Â . leaving all our problems behindÂ .Â .Â .
Me and MillicentÂ .Â .Â .
MillicentÂ .Â .Â .
I WOKE UP
around dawn and lay in bed for a while, listening to the birds chirp outside and mulling over what to do next. Twelve hours' sleep had shored up my sense of honor, and I no longer thought I had it in me to run away.
At least, not until I'd helped Adonis clean the house.
I went downstairs, drew some water from the well behind the house, and washed up for the first time in ages. I left two buckets of fresh water in the kitchen for the others, then found an empty bin and a shovel and went to work clearing the mess from the living room.
I'd dumped a full bin of trash behind the stableâit was a relief to see our horses were still alive, and not much more underfed than they'd looked when I leftâand was heading back inside to fill another when I ran into Kira.
She was sitting on the steps of the porch, studying the map I'd copied for her on the