The sky was pitch black and the night was calm. The large ship was anchored at the bay, a few kilometres from the castle, hidden from the royal outposts.
“Get over with this quickly, gentlemen,” said the Captain. He was a huge man with dark thick hair and wore his big pirate hat on his head like a crown.
“And ladies!” the youthful, redheaded Cali interposed.
The Captain shook his head and questioned his decision to let that crazy female foreigner onto his crew.
“Long live the King,” said Deluge sarcastically while sharpening his beloved dagger.
The Captain sighed and started to rub the upper part of his long, black beard.
“If anyone of you does anything that diverges from the plan, I will personally hang you over the railing and let you bob in the water like the roaches you are until your skin falls off your bones. Is that understood?” he growled, piercing each and every one of his crew members with his glowing yellow eyes.
“Yes, sir,” echoed the crew as a smaller group of ten people departed from the ship.
At a safe distance, out of earshot from the Captain, Deluge turned to the redhead, one of the few people who was able to stand his political rambles, and hissed, “What a f***ing pussy!”
“When did I ask?”, teased Cali.
The group that had departed took the narrow path hidden between old, towering fir trees instead of the main road. They marched apace through the bushes and over roots, always keeping an eye out in the direction of the main road.
“Crap, they’re not here,” said Cali, looking at an empty bed.
As expected, the crew had been able to get into the castle without any problems, with the help from a contact on the inside. Could the girls have switched rooms?
“Looks like they’re out of bed,” said Deluge.
“Right, let’s split up. They can’t be very far.” Cali took a right and went down the stairs. She heard footsteps and saw a faint light from a candle a few meters away. A middle-aged woman dressed in a simple nightgown passed Cali without noticing her. It looked like she was searching for something.
Cali effortlessly covered the woman’s mouth with the palm of her left hand and gently put a knife to the woman’s throat with the right, not minding the candle falling to the floor and dying out on the way.
“I’m going to let you talk, but please try not to scream,” she spoke calmly into the woman’s ear.
The woman stood frozen, afraid to move, but managed to give a small nod.
“Righto, please tell me where the princesses are.”
“I-, I don’t know," stuttered the woman. "I was looking for them as well, my lady.”
“Well, isn’t that perfect? You surely know your way around better than me.”, said Cali with a grin.
“Come on.”, whispered Katheryn.
“Only if you promise to convince mom to keep the puppies.”, said Rose.
“Yes, I’ve already promised. Come on now!”, Katheryn waved impatiently to her younger sister.
The corridors were sparsely lit with lanterns evenly placed along the cold, thick stone walls. This wasn’t the first time the sisters defied the rules by leaving their room in the middle of the night.
Their first stop was the smaller eastern tower where the merchant and his daughter, Aster, were temporarily housed during the ongoing tournament. At the foot of the stairs stood Aster, waiting, as agreed. The next stop was the servants’ common area next to the kitchen on the bottom floor.
Katheryn, Rose and Aster never made it all the way to the common room for their dear friend Cheer met them halfway.
Katheryn, Rose, and Aster never made it all the way to the common room, for their dear friend, Cheer, met them halfway. Cheer was a sweet servant girl, brought up in the castle alongside the princesses. She was of average height, with warm brown eyes and black hair tied up in two small braided buns. Cheer wore a simple cotton white nightgown, similar to the one Aster had but even simpler, whereas the sisters wore velvet gowns in rich blues and purples.
“Why are you here?”, Katheryn hissed.
“Well, you we’re late,” answered Cheer.
Without further ado, the four girls snuck out of the servants back door and crossed the courtyard to the garden.
“What’s up?”, a voice said from behind which made Cheer jump.
“Oh, it’s just Leah,” said Aster after turning around and meeting a pair of ice blue eyes.
“Go on with whatever you were doing. Don’t let me disturb,” said Leah and walked away.
Leah had, similarly to Cheer, been brought up at the castle but weren’t very keen on doing any servant’s work, something she had managed to get away with because of her family’s century long loyalty to the crown.
“She’s special,” said Cheer a bit nervously.
The friends continued further into the garden towards the sound of metal on metal.
Two young men stood facing each other while pointing a saber at their opponent. The one with the golden locks was prince Dorian of the Summer Island and the other young man was prince Royce from a lesser known kingdom higher up in the north.
“Surrender,” said prince Dorian as he flicked his golden hair.
“Never!” exclaimed Royce, none of them noticing the spectators a few meters away.
“They’re not that good,” whispered Aster disappointedly.
Katheryn sighted. She was supposed to have married years ago but there was no suitable prince in the neighbouring kingdoms. They were either too poor or too stupid. As a kid she had fantasised about the perfect royal wedding, a dream that was long gone.
“Dorian,” said Royce who suddenly noticed the princesses and their two friends.
Dorian lowered his guard to, indeed, see a small audience. For a moment it looked like he was about to say something with his mouth half opened but then, in the last second, decided to straighten up and return to his composed prince like look.
“Her royal highnesses,” said the young princes and took a deep bow.
“What brought you here this time of day?” asked prince Dorian politey.
“We overheard that you were going to practice tonight and wanted to come and see,” Katheryn replied calmly.
“We’re honored, your highness,” said prince Royce, courteously putting his right hand over his heart.
“Then we shall continue,” nodded Dorian and the two princes resumed to their practice fighting.
“Ugh, can we go back now?” said Rose in a sigh.
“Wouldn’t that be a bit rude?” asked Cheer, a bit uncertain if she had the right to question the princess even though they were friends too.
“I agree, we’ll-,” Katheryn got cut off by the sound of the alarm bells ringing. Intruders!
“Look at what we have here.”
Out from the shadows stepped a tall, bald elderly man with grey scruffy beard and a shorter man, missing his right ear.
“Get behind us, we’ll protect you,” said prince Dorian and huddled the girls aside.
“Hello pretty boy. You wanna fight?” teased the one eared man.
“Turn yourself in or you will regret it, bandits,” said Royce and pointed his sabre towards the two men.
“Is he a brave one?” challenged the elderly man.
“I think they look rather stupid,” replied man missing an ear.
The men looked filthy, as if they were covered in months of dirt, their skin looked flustered and both were missing half of their teeth. They wore leather and cotton, and at their belts hung guns and daggers.
“They’re not common thieves, they’re pirates,” Royce spit out in disgust.
“Run back to the castle while we hold them off,” said Dorian to the girls.
The girls turned around in an attempt to get back to the castle but two other pirates, a man and a female, were standing right behind them. They were surrounded.
“We’re not gonna hurt you,” said the female pirate with an unexpectedly cheery voice.
“Our father will have you killed the second he finds you,” said Rose defiantly.
“We’re not planning to get caught though,” said the female who had her red hair in two long braids and a large maroon colored feather accompanying her dark leathered hat.
“Enough with the pleasantries, tie them up already,” said the man impatiently.
“Hey, stop being so boring.”
The man grunted with no intention to hide that his fellow crew member was getting on his nerves.
“What are we going to do with the servant girls?” asked the female pirate.
“Take them too.”
“On it,” she nodded.
The kidnapping hadn’t gone as smoothly as planned but it had still been an easy feat. The princesses had snuck out in middle of the night with a couple of friends to watch two princes fight. The princes had tried to fight off ole Harry and one eared Locke but had failed miserably. Not because they weren’t skilled, it was more due to them being caught red-handedly and a lack of experience. Harry and Locke had tied the princes to the nearest tree they could find together with one of the house cooks of the castle.
“All done here then?” said one eared Locke with a grin.
Harry nodded and the two pirates met up with Cali and Deluge who had captured the princesses and the servant girls.
“You filthy pirates, let them go!” shouted the prince with the golden locks.
“He’s a pain, mate,” chuckled Locke and the party headed back to the ship.
After about half an hour of walking in the darkness the younger princess, Rose, stopped.
“What’s the matter?” asked Deluge impatiently and pulled the rope that tied both of Rose’s hands together to make her walk again.
“I’m tired,” she complained which only was a fraction of the truth. Rose was terrified, freezing cold, sore and exhausted.
“You spoiled little brat,” Delugie muttered.
“The guards are already on their way. We won’t have to walk for much longer,” Katheryn ensured her sister.
“Indeed you won’t, princess,” said Cali as the forest opened up to a hidden cove.
Katheryn could hear the sounds of bells and shouting and see the flickering of torches in the distance, their rescue were close. “Maybe if they could stall the pirates a little…,” she though. They crossed the pebbled beach to get to two small wooden dinghies where another group of pirates seemed to be waiting.
“Leah!” gasped Cheer as she distinguished a lean figure with straight, raven black hair.
“We found this one wandering the yard and thought that we might as well take her,” said one of the pirates who had been waiting at the cove.
The small fishing boat reached the wharf just before dusk.
“Right on time,” said the old fisherman.
“Thanks,” Sky took a small breath, picked up her bag and put it over her right shoulder.
“Good luck, kiddo.”
Sky was already on her way towards the heart of the Pirates Bay and most likely missed the fisherman’s good luck wish in the turmoil of people shouting and moving in every possible direction on the dock. It had been many years since Sky last visited the Pirates Bay and she only had a faint memory of the place, nevertheless she knew exactly where she was heading. Sky had been preparing for this day ever since her father announced his retirement. She had been training every day on both her practical and theoretical skills. The only question was if all of that preparing would be enough.
“Move, child,” grunted a man from behind as he carelessly pushed Sky to the side.
“I’m not a child,” muttered Sky as she dusted off her clothes.
Without any further thought on the incident, Sky continued on her path towards the heart of the bay, the pub known as the Seven Seasick Seamen. The pub was unusually crowded for this early time of the evening. In black bold letters the word “RECRUITING” was painted on a wooden sign hung above the entrance. Sky clenched both her fists before stepping inside. She couldn’t screw up now.
The Seven Seasick Seamen was packed. Pirates and townspeople alike drank and sang to their heart’s content.
Serena and Angel made their way through the tables.
“What are we looking for?” asked Angel. She was tall for her age, had long brown hair, wore a leather vest and a brown hat with a wide brim.
“I’m not sure yet,” said Serena hesitant. There was no way they could replace the lost crew members but they were in need of more people.
They walked towards the stairs at the back of the room to get to the calmer top floor. The stairs were as old as the building and no one had thought of replacing the missing planks with new ones.
“Pirates,” muttered Serena.
The top floor was poorly lit. The tables were arranged evenly to the left and right along a straight path at which people sat in silence, drinking from the bottle or smoking their pipes. Serena took the lead and continued further into the room.
“Oi, Serena, Angel!” ole bald Harry coughed. Serena and Angel stopped at his table.
“Harry, long time no see,” said Serena.
“Sorry for your loss,” Harry nodded and for a moment they all went quiet.
“Alright, what do you got?” asked Serena.
“Nothing much. We got these girls,” said Harry and pointed towards three girls sitting to the left of him. Two of the girls looked frightened whereas the third had a stubborn expression on her face and sat with crossed arms. They most likely were around the same age as Angel but they had an innocence about them which made them look younger.
“Where did you get them?”
“Straight from Westeria,” said Harry as he contently drummed on his big belly.
“They probably haven’t been on a boat before,” noted Angel.
“Doesn’t seem like it.” Serena agreed. “Hm… How much?”
“Whatever you got,” Harry replied.
“I’ll take those two,” said Serena and pointed towards the girl with black hair in two small braided buns and the girl with dark blonde hair tied back in a ponytail, she then put a dozen silver coins on the table. The crew didn’t have time nor energy to take on a moody teenager, so Serena let the girl sitting with her arms crossed stay with Harry.
“The blacksmith’s daughter…,” Lǎoshǔ tasted the words on her tongue. She hated that title and had no intention of continuing the family business. She knew that she was a disappointment to her family but she couldn’t stand the fumes of the stone ovens and the constant bangering on metal for much longer, it drove her crazy.
Lǎoshǔ stood lined up next to, about twenty, other candidates, all in hopes to get on to Captain Briggs’ crew. The one handling the recruitments was Serena, a beautiful but very serious woman, with long blonde hair. She went back and forth across the line, inspecting the candidates closely. Captain Briggs’ daughter Angel were by Serena’s side and paid close attention to Serena’s mannerism and reasonings.
“Hey, you. Have you been on a crew before?” Serena turned to a girl with silver colored hair, similar in both stature and age to Lǎoshǔ.
“No ma’am,” answered the girl.
The silver color was very distinct. “She must be one of the Le Sage children,” concluded Lǎoshǔ. The couple Le Sage had been regulars at the smithy up until Mrs. Le Sage disappearance and Mr. Le Sage decision to retire.
“What’s your name?” Serena asked.
“Sky, Sky Le Sage,” the Le Sage girl replied.
“Angel, should we take the smith’s kid or Le Sage?”
Lǎoshǔ wasn’t surprised by the fact that they knew who she was. Her parents owned one of the three smitheries in the Pirates Bay and they only had one child, her.
“Hm… none of them since we just got two new recruits about the same size and age,” said Angel lingering. Serena looked at Angel, remaining silent. She wanted Angel to choose one or the other. “But…,” Angel continued, “…we should go with the most experienced and that would be Sky.”