Chapter 13: FORTIS FORTIFYING
Kyle packed his things in his hut, the small amount that he owned, a couple of shirts, a couple of pants, a large stick he used to play stick ball in the streets, and an oval shaped ball made out of the skin of a pig that the men would sometimes play “kill the carrier” with. Kyle was very sporty when he wasn’t very piratey. At the moment, he was very afraid of the events unfolding in the village before him, and he couldn’t rightly explain why. It seemed since his days on The Hampton Chase, since his and his fellow crew members’ homecoming, the village was bustling with some kind of dark-hearted energy. A village that used to be known for its joviality, from its freedom of the Kingdom’s rules, for its partying all hours of the night and its working hard at dawn, this same village seemed to still be under the dark storm cloud that had passed yesterday evening.
“Kyle, why are you packing?” Shy, his sister, short with dark hair, asked him when she discovered him. “Did Kelles message you? Spencer? Do you have another ship?”
“No,” Kyle responded. “I haven’t heard of any ship. But, I don’t have any want to fight in this battle.”
Morg appeared beside Shy in the doorway, taller and blonde. “You can’t leave. Where are you going?” Morg’s eyes were clear sky blue, and she used her steely gaze to burn a hole in Kyle’s conscience. “If you’re caught outside of the village, you’ll be taken prisoner.”
“Prisoner? Everybody here knows who I am. Why would they take me prisoner?”
“Because, they mean to go to war. And anybody not on their side is an enemy. So, how will you explain running off? How would we? They’ll come looking for you. What are we to say?”
Kyle looked at his sisters, the same two sisters who had just recently lost their parents to the same wandering disease that had taken anybody who had a child. All parents in the village had found a reason, whether common or obtuse, to go off somewhere and never return. The last two parents Kyle knew were two sailors on The Hampton Chase, Larry and Donny, who were with them when the ship hit the cliff, but not with them when they climbed down the rope and precariously found footing on the slick rocks. Somewhere, between here and there, they got lost, and Kyle had no idea why. Although the other sailors, with short term memories, blamed the young captain JJ, Kyle remembered seeing Larry and Donny before he descended.
“What is going on?” Kyle asked for what seemed like the hundredth time, not being able to wrap his head around the events unfolding. “Why do they mean to attack Springborough?”
“They heard it is being ruled by children,” Morg shrugged, wrapping an arm around Shy’s shoulders, as Shy stood there, nervous they might never see their brother again if he did take off. Their parents had left. Their parents had yet to return.
“Children or no, you don’t just go to war because someone has something you don’t. The Village of Fortis was a happy community when I left. I come back and it is blood thirsty.”
“Not everyone,” Morg reminded her brother.
“Don’t go,” Shy squeaked out, fighting tears. “I fear if you go, we will not see you again. And I cannot go with you on your adventure. I’m not woodsy enough for the woods. I couldn’t imagine being in the middle of nowhere surrounded by enemies. And I don’t want to wake up every day not knowing what has happened of you. Please, stay. For us.”
Kyle looked at his sisters, heard the shouting of the villagers outside, and sighed. He thought about Morg’s first question and wished it were true. He wished he did have another ship to get to. He even wished he had Captain Jonathon James to stroll into town and tell them to get their things, they were going back out onto the Waters of Cornwall, and they were going to attempt to find a kingdom that nobody alive has seen and generations have forgotten about That Lost Kingdom of Gambrille which seemed like the Heavens on an island, which meant it was too good to be true. But, when their boat landed on the rocks, The Hampton Chase probably was destroyed beyond ever sailing again. High tide had probably swelled about the ship, lifting it from its perch, and taking it out to sea where it would sink. And as the men had walked the shoreline back to the docks, they had noticed none of the other ships had survived. Or, at least, the docks were empty. He was a sailor in a world without boats. He was purely landlocked.
He was glad to think that he had no stake in a boat, and the boy Captain would soon have to pay for the fact he lost the dock master, Kelles, boat. Rumor had it, Kelles was a woman you didn’t want to cross, and that the men that did, ended up losing their boats, which is what she rented out to pirates like Jage.
Kyle still had mates. He wondered what Juba, Murray, Bud, and Beverly were doing at the moment. So, he hugged his sisters, and told them again his plans to leave the village and the fight behind, but first he had to go see about his shipmates. He promised he would be back to say goodbye, and, to prove it, he left all of his stuff. Upon waving at the door, he noticed his sisters stood between him and his bags, and he thought that when he returned, they would remain there, between him and his exit plan.
Kyle couldn’t find Juba. He went to the first mate’s hut only to find Juba’s wife, Freda, who said that Daniel had gone off into the woods with his knife in hopes to find meat to cook for lunch, or berries to eat, or root vegetables, or mushrooms- whatever he could find. This sounded just like Juba who only talked of food when he wasn’t talking of work or family. Juba could eat more than any other man Kyle knew, and what he ate didn’t seem to matter. The man would eat onions like apples, fish like corn on the cob, and would place gobs of butter on his gums, letting the oils soak out to satiate his hunger.
The young sailor kept on down the muddy path of Fortis, and up a slight embankment to find the three oldest sailors, Murray, Beverly, and Bud, all hanging out in Beverly’s hut. Being the highest point in the village, Beverly’s floor was therefore the least muddy on this day after the storm. When Kyle appeared in the doorway, all three men barely acknowledged him, rather listening to the story that Beverly was currently telling of a fish he had caught at night on their latest adventure on The Hampton Chase. Murray and Bud laughed, wheezing air out of their lungs, and wiped at the tears soaking their eyes.
“I kid you not, I almost went over. The rod almost broke. I couldn’t see anything in the moonlight, and I’m also in charge of the wheel, no? So, there I am, my rod almost in half, and I’m reaching out with my toe, trying to keep one toe on the wheel. Now, I’m an old man, I can’t do this. I feel the muscle tearing down my thigh, oh my Heavens, it was so painful. So painful, in fact, that when my shorts tore, which they did, down my butt, I thought I had audibly heard the sound of my own muscle tearing. I thought the rrrriiipppp was traveling down my thigh. It wasn’t until I felt the cold night air on my bum that I realized it was my shorts.”
“And the fish?” Murray asked, still laughing at the fact that there was a night nobody knew about on the boat. A night where an older gentleman was doing the splits, steering with his toe, trying to reel in a big fish. To Murray, it seemed almost a blessing that Beverly didn’t crash them into the rocks.
“There’s a fish in the sea, gentleman, who now owns my fishing rod.”
With that, the room burst into even more raucous laughter as all three men could not contain their amusement. Kyle noticed the men had pewter mugs in their hands filled with something that probably added to their merriment, but he couldn’t do anything other than stand there and smile, for this was the Fortis he knew. This was the Fortis he was trying to describe to his sisters who seemed to have the same solemn outlook on the future, that the days of laughter were over, and the days of war were the new reality. Kyle had to believe that this just wasn’t so. And, as the laughing continued, it grew infectious, and Kyle couldn’t contain his own chuckles. He stood in the doorway, laughing with the gentleman, wondering if the village could hear them, if the sound of them laughing would remind the villagers that they were not people that took up arms.
Or would the sound of laughter anger these villagers even more? Would they believe the pirates weren’t one of them because they were happy?
“Kyle!” Murray shouted, alerting the room to the new presence.
“John,” Kyle returned, thrusting out his hand for a handshake, but Murray pulled the young boy into a hug. Murray’s first name was John, but in the Village of Fortis, when your first name is John- you go by your last name, because if one were to shout “John” at a party, no less than twenty people would turn their heads. John was considered a family name at one point, now it just seemed something to name a boy when you couldn’t come up with anything else.
Upon hugging Murray, Kyle found himself one-arm hugging both Bud and Beverly. All the men in the hut had yet to find a bar of soap. Their skin was clean of the sea salt by the rain, but their odors remained, and it wasn’t until Kyle smelled the men that he realized he himself smelled. His underarms permeated a warmth with the slight sting of stink. Kyle put bathing at the top of his to-do list, right after finding out just what it was that was going on.
“Good to see you, Ky. How are your lovely sisters?” Beverly asked, his eyebrows so high in the air they almost disappeared off his forehead. The old man always made it seem like he was interested in the ladies of the village, but everyone knew that if one were to talk to him, he’d turn as red as a beet, and end his night early. Beverly had been married once, but his wife had died, and with her went Beverly’s heart. He simply counted the days they would be together again.
“Morg and Shy are good. They’re happy I’m home. Worried as to where our parents went. Worried as to what I’m thinking of doing next.”
“Lots of people disappeared when we were away,” Bud agreed, trying hard to put an observation to it, but continue on with the joviality. He crossed his arms, sucked at his bottom lip, and sighed, his mind clouded with his drink.
“I’m sure my parents are fine, wherever they are, and that they will return soon. I only fear what they will return to.”
“Probably nothing and no one,” Murray ventured.
“Are you referring to the sudden conquering spirit of our people? This war they want to get into? This battle with children?” Bud surmised.
“Yes. What do you make of it? So what if it is the princes and princess running Springborough? Since when did that matter to us?”
“Murray’s walls have been ransacked of all its weaponry,” Bud continued. “When he went to Chase to see if anybody knew anything or anybody saw something, Chase said that a man had come into the village, and killed Zeke in cold blood, middle of the road, in front of Zeke’s family. This man was that King’s guard, Corson. Now, I’m not one to tell you what you should believe, but to believe a guard of the King came into the middle of the village, in the middle of the storm, and killed a man outside of his hut in cold blood in the rain, for no other reason than to satisfy a homicidal itch, that doesn’t make much sense. I can’t tell you why Corson was here. I can’t tell you why Zeke was out in the rain. What I can tell you is that everybody here, not just Zeke, has lost their heads. And when did it happen? We had a party the night before we left, did we not? If I remember correctly, there was a lot of ale, there was a lot of roasted pig, and there was a lot of dancing. How long were we away?”
“Fifty-three days, by my count,” Murray interjected.
“Chase told Murray that everybody in town has stolen his weapons. That everyone in town needed to be armed, because they are going to Springborough, and they are going to kill the guards, and they are going to kill the royal children, and then the Kingdom of Springborough will be the Kingdom of Fortis, and this whole island will be one.”
“It’s lunacy,” Murray added. “Killing children.”
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Kyle continued.
“It would make sense,” Beverly added whispering, so the four of them had to get closer to one another. Suddenly, it felt like they were four sailors again, alone in the world, out on the sea, talking with their heads together on the deck, trying to figure out a nautical path. “If they were thinking of taking over Springborough to make our nightly parties even larger, that would make sense to me.”
“Would make sense, even, if they were planning to just go talk to the kids. Set something up. But, this want to kill…” Murray trailed off.
“They want the Kingdom out of greed. Out of envy. Out of all the emotions we did not feel when we were away. We’re pirates! We’re the pillagers of the community, and we don’t even suffer from this malice. When we stormed that boat at the beginning of the year, that one on its way to Sanbay, did we kill anyone?” Beverly asked the group.
“Bud did throw someone overboard,” Kyle remembered.
“Aye, with a barrel. He was rescued after we left by his shipmates, or he wasn’t, but that wouldn’t have been my fault,” Bud corrected the young lad.
“We sailed the seas, we stole from the wealthy, we didn’t hurt anyone. Sure, some swords to necks, some threats made, but everyone went home to their families. This? This….” Beverly continued. “This village is angry. Heavens help those children, Princess Kyrstin, Prince Thomas, and that Giant, Prince Patrick- because this village is coming for them with hatred in their hearts.”
The four men sat there, letting that realization stew between them, trying to think of what it is they could do.
“Well, I’m happy to find you guys happy,” Kyle started. “I could not find Juba. Supposedly he is in the woods finding food.”
Bud snorted. “Freda doesn’t know everything. Juba’s on a mission of his own.”