The Tempest drifted into port with her esteemed captain hunched at the helm. With the treasure safe in the hold and eight weeks of restless sailing behind him, Captain Silverius allowed a rare smile to cross his lips at the sight of land. As the anchor dropped, he shouted orders to his motley crew.
“Marshall, secure the lines. Calak, stop runnin’ about like a useless seagull and help ’im. Jett and Scarlett, follow me. Jagger, keep the valuables safe.”
“Aye, sir,” the giant shouted. “Just bring back a pint of ale!”
“I’ll secure a barrel,” Scarlett called back.
The seasoned captain hobbled off the gangplank and onto the bustling docks of Garents Pass. The seaport was alive with vibrant colors and enticing smells of spices and savory fish. Silverius ignored the clench in his stomach as he, his first mate, and gunner merged into the crowd.
"Are you sure you don't want Calak to come with us, Captain? He burned a hole in the deck the last time we left ’im with Marshall," Jett asked.
"If he burns a hole again, he's rowing his way back to Farren Cross," Silverius replied.
"Serves the runt right. At least then he’d get enough muscle to lift his sword," Scarlett agreed, snatching her leather coin purse away from a rash pickpocket. One glance at her pistol had him scurrying back into the sea of people. The three pirates crossed the cobblestones, entering a familiar tavern. Silverius allowed another rare smile as he caught the eye of an old friend.
"Silverius, me ol’ shipmate. Fancy seein’ you back here so soon." The beefy barkeep chuckled, wiping his hands on his grease-stained shirt. “How’s a flagon of ale sound?”
"A hearty meal’s all I need, Fenix,” Silverius replied, leaning on the counter. “Save the ale for the crew. They’ve earned it.”
“Shucks, Cap’n. Yer kindness will go down in history,” Scarlett said, twirling her pistol back into her belt.
“Don’t go spreading that kind of rumor.” Fenix chuckled, sliding a bowl of gruel over to Silverius. “Folk might think he’s gone soft.”
“Not this old dog,” Jett replied, clapping his captain on the back. “He’s just making us happy so we’s don’t kill each other later. It’s a miracle Calak’s still got both his eyes.”
“So, the kid’s stuck it out, has he?” Fenix asked. He grabbed two wooden mugs, wiping them with a cloth. “I’d have thought he’d been left on some desert island in the south sea by now.”
“We tried. The lad swam two miles to catch up.” Silverius chuckled. “Runt’s got spirit, Fen. Reminds me of us at his age. Too dim to quit and stubborn enough to stay alive.”
“We were a couple of scamps, weren’t we?” Fenix agreed. “But just keep ’im away from Avila. She doesn’t need to get tangled into those reckless antics of his.”
“Yer daughter can handle herself,” Scarlett said. “She’s got a fiery spirit too. She can put a man in his place.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Fenix muttered.
The tavern door burst open, and the rest of Silverius’s crew sauntered in.
“Sedge! Have a seat, princess.”
“Just because we’re family, old man, doesn’t give you liberty to call me names,” she retorted to Fenix, plopping down next to Scarlett. She flipped two knives out of her belt and slammed the blades into the table.
“Now don’t go damaging me property, young lady,” he said, piling mugs onto a tray. “I’ve got nary two coins to rub together.”
“Don’t exaggerate, old man. Yer bringing in plenty of loot with this rusty dump,” Sedge replied, swiping her dusty blonde hair out of her eyes. Her braid fell over her shoulder, almost landing in Jett’s stew.
“Watch the hair,” he muttered. “I didn’t get off the ship just to get that rat’s nest in my face again.”
“Yer just jealous because yer losing yer own luscious locks,” Scarlett said. Marshall, Calak, and Sedge burst into cackling laughter while Jett took a swig of ale.
“At least mine doesn’t get caught in the rigging. I find hair tangled in the ropes, and we all know Jagger ain’t hiding a crimson wig under his eyepatch.”
“I think yer both harboring sand crabs in yer brains. It still takes two of ye to tie a knot,” Marshall said, taking a mug off a passing maid’s tray.
“Yer all a bunch of hopeless vagrants,” Captain Silverius said, turning in his seat at the counter.
“Then what does that make you, Cap’n?”
The crew burst into laughter again, all hitting their mugs together. But Calak kept his head propped up on one arm, his eyes bouncing across the busy tavern. Marshall moved his hand in front of the teenager’s face, snapping Calak’s attention back to the table.
“What caught yer eye, lad?”
Sedge gave a wide grin.
“Oh, it ain’t nothing.” She chuckled. “I’ll give you swabs three guesses as to who’s caught this sorry runt’s attention.”
“It ain’t a lass, is it?” Marshall asked. “Them girls will mess with a man’s head. Are they interested? Are they not? I swear, it changes every thirty seconds.”
“You would know, Marsh.” Jett smiled. The seasoned sailor glared.
“It certainly is,” Sedge replied as Calak’s face flushed. “But not just any maiden, oh no. He’s got his eyes set on this lovely lass herself,” Sedge said as a young maiden approached the crew. “Afternoon, Avila. Break any hearts today?”
Avila gave her cousin a good-natured smile.
“Just the usual three. Are you and Scarlett keeping these gents in line?”
“Hardly.” Marshall scoffed. “We had to drag the lass out of a navy ship’s cargo hold. She caused more trouble than a seagull in the galley. Practically had the whole fleet after us for four days.”
He replaced his empty mug with one from Avila’s tray.
“But we got serious loot from that excursion. I think ye should be thankin’ me.”
“Don’t go flaunting our spoils. Old Fox has ears everywhere,” Silverius scolded Sedge. She shrugged.
“Yer just paranoid, Cap’n. Not everything has to do with yer old crew.”
“Can I get you all more stew? It’s the special today,” Avila interrupted.
“I’ll eat anything that’s not a hard biscuit,” Scarlett said. Avila went through swinging doors behind the counter, and Calak stared after her. Sedge clapped him on the back, her laugh hooting through the tavern.
“This runt’s smitten all right. Couldn’t even manage a hello when she came over.”
“That's ridiculous. I could impress her if I wanted to. I just didn’t want—to—demand her attention,” Calak replied, leaning back in his chair. Jett snorted.
“Huh, prove it,” Sedge said. Calak almost fell out of his chair.
“Ye heard me. The first fella who tries to sway her gets flattened to a table.”
“Oh. Uh, I don’t—”
“So, ye can challenge the captain of a navy ship to a duel, but ye can’t defend the one lass who matters? Hmph, three more, and ye’ll be like Jett.”
“No one asked, Marsh,” Jett snapped as Avila came back with the bowls of steaming stew. She set the tray down, and they all grabbed food like ravenous dogs.
“There's plenty more where that came from,” Avila said, tucking the tray under her arm. “It’s nice to see you again, Calak.”
She left to help another customer before he could respond. He continued to watch her as he finally grabbed a bowl of stew for himself. He ate slowly, Avila walking circles around the tavern as she conversed with the regulars. As he was finishing his meal, the tavern door slammed open.
“Avila!” a boisterous voice called. A man swaggered in, his worn black coat dripping water all over the floor. Calak grimaced as the sailor wrapped his arm around Avila’s waist. “Miss me?” he asked. Avila pushed him off her, and he plopped into a chair. His grin was as wide as ever. Calak ignored the look Sedge was giving him.
“Bastain,” she greeted flatly. “I’m working.”
“That hasn’t stopped ye before, princess,” he replied.
“I told you to stop calling me princess,” she said. She set down some water in front of him and turned to the next table to give a man his mutton. Bastain stood, wrapping his arm around her waist again.
Calak stood up so fast his chair clattered backward. Sedge smiled, sipping her ale. The boy crossed the room and pulled Avila away from Bastain. Her tray fell to the floor, ale splashing everywhere.
“The lady said back off,” he said, planting himself in front of Avila. Bastain’s grin only grew.
“If it isn’t the little Calak back in his nest. Did you learn anything from last time, runt?”
Bastain towered over Calak by at least three feet and was several years older. Calak’s arms looked like toothpicks compared to Bastain’s, but the kid didn’t look like he was going to back down.
“He’s dead,” Marshall said. He swallowed the last of his ale.
“He might have a chance,” Scarlett said.
Bastain grabbed the front of Calak’s shirt. Calak landed on top of a table that tipped over, spilling him to the floor. Chairs scattered as Bastain stormed after him with his sword drawn.
“Never mind,” Scarlett said. “Jett?”
The first mate set down his mug with a sigh.
“I guess our lives would be worse without ’im,” he said as Calak rolled away from Bastain’s cutlass. “His chores would be split between us.”
Jett moved to stand, and Sedge stopped him.
They watched as Bastain slammed the hilt of his sword into Calak’s gut. The runt doubled over, wheezing.
“Okay, now ye can go,” she said, sipping her drink again. Jett rolled his eyes and stood. He walked up behind Bastain, grabbed the back of his collar, and dragged him away from Calak. Jett tossed the pirate back with seemingly minimal effort. The crew of the Tempest cheered, lifting their mugs.
“This ain’t yer fight,” Bastain snapped. His grin was replaced by a snarling scowl. “That boy belongs to me!”
His narrow yellow eyes flashed at Calak like a wolf closing in on its prey. The boy scrambled to his feet, and Avila hurried over to him.
“No one touches me crew,” Captain Silverius thundered, joining Jett. “And especially not me own flesh and blood. Ye have a problem with him, ye go through me.”
Something lit up in Bastain’s eyes, and the man smirked.
“Yer risking a lot protecting ’im, Silver,” he said, running his finger along the blade of his cutlass. “Old Fox hasn’t forgotten what you did.”
“Nor have I,” Silverius replied flatly. “But Calak’s not part of that. None of me crew are.”
“Yer blind loyalty to that bilge rat will get you killed. Remember that when he stabs you in the back,” Jett added. “Just leave the kids alone. They’ve no dealings with ye or the old dog.”
“No, Old Fox will get you all,” Bastain snarled, backing toward the door. “Just remember, ol’ Silver. You’ve got the mark.” He smirked, pointing to a tattoo on his arm. The snarling face of a fox stared at Calak. He swallowed hard. “Covering it with yer sleeve ain’t gonna make it go away.”
The door of the tavern was swinging shut before anyone could reply. Captain Silverius tugged on his sleeve and returned to the counter without another word while Jett rejoined the crew. The silence that had settled in the tavern lifted, and everyone went back to their meals. But their conversation seemed slightly softer than before.
Calak turned to Avila, who had started to gather up the mess of overturned chairs and scattered plates. He righted a table as Avila set the chairs around it.
“That was stupid, you know.”
“Going up against Bastain like that. I’m not some damsel in distress,” Avila said. Calak blinked at her.
“I was just tryin’ to help—”
“Well, stop! I can handle myself!” Avila said louder. Heads started turning in their direction again.
Calak reached for her arm as she moved away, and her hand smacked him cleanly across the face. He staggered back, his hand flying to his stinging cheek.
“Don’t touch me,” she snapped, shouldering past him. He stared after her.
“Don’t worry about that, runt,” Sedge called to him as he walked past the table. “You’ll get ’er next time.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Marshall replied. “What’d I say? A woman likes ye one second and hates ye the next.”
Calak sat at the counter next to Silver, still rubbing his cheek. Fenix slid him a mug with a chuckle.
“Don’t let Avy get ye down, lad. She’s as feisty as they come. But an old man does appreciate when someone stands up fer his kin. Isn’t that right, Silver?”
“No one messes with me crew,” he replied, giving Calak a side glance. He ruffled the lad’s hair and lightly punched his shoulder.
“I guess I wasn’t expecting ye to stand up fer me,” Calak said. “Ye complain about me all the time.”
“Ye may be a runt, but yer our runt. Ye signed on as part of the crew. Ye still got a lot to learn. Can’t expect to get all in four months.”
Calak stared down at the mug in front of him. Silver grunted as he got up. He tossed a few coins to Fenix.
“We’re shovin’ off,” he said. The crew got up from their seats, but Calak didn’t move. His brow was furrowed as if he had a headache. “Calak?”
“I’ll send the lad in a moment,” Fenix said. “I’d like an extra moment with ’im.”
“Suit yerself, Fen,” Silverius agreed. Once the crew was gone, Calak lifted his eyes to find Fenix staring right back at him.
“What’s on yer mind? It can’t just be Avy.”
Calak swallowed hard before answering.
“What did Bastain mean by Old Fox’s mark?” he asked. Fenix sighed.
“So, we’ve come to it, then,” he murmured. “As one of Silverius’s kin and crew, ye have the right to know. What do ye know of Old Fox?”
“He hates us,” Calak replied flatly.
“It didn’t always be that way. Silver and I were part of the old dog’s crew. Jett was too. But he was called Slayer then. Changed his name when we three split from Fox’s crew.”
Calak stared at him, keenly interested.
“Greed. Just about the only thing that can destroy a good crew. When the Tempest was first captured from the royal navy, Old Fox planned on giving it to Jett. It was to be the start of the captain’s own fleet with Jett as his second in command. But Old Fox changed his mind. But Jett wouldn’t back down. Ol’ Silver and I stood by him, and we stole that beauty from under the fox’s nose.” Fenix chuckled fondly. But his smile seemed strained. “We three old members of the Siren’s Ghost still harbor Fox’s mark on our arms,” he continued, rolling up his sleeve. There, imprinted on his skin, was the tattoo of the fox. The same one Bastain had. “I reckon that’s what ol’ Bastain meant by ‘the mark.’”
“And will Old Fox really come for me uncle?” Calak asked.
“He has sworn to one day claim the Tempest as his own. But I don’t think he’ll ever get it.”
“Why is that?”
“Yer crew is yer family, Calak. Ye have yer squabbles and hard points, but ye still support each other. The crew of Siren’s Ghost ain’t that way. Their greed for gold runs deep in their veins, and fear of death makes them stay. Yer crew’s loyalty, Calak, is stronger than you know. In time, you’ll see. I can promise you that.”