Chapter 15: THE PIRATE ABDUCTEE
When the hand came down over JJ’s mouth, he didn’t know what was happening. He was so out of his element in the town of Springborough, his initial first reaction to the event, after bewildered shock, was that this must be what happens here. People never ventured off alone because, he was sure, there were just adult abductors around every corner. The hand came down, the palm dry and dirty, and clamped over his mouth. It was a man’s hand, he could tell, by the way it covered half of his face, and he was almost struggling to breathe with the index finger clamped right below his nostrils. He grabbed at the hand with both of his, trying to free it from his lips, but just as both of his hands went up to attack it, an arm wrapped around his waist and lifted him up into the air. Before he knew it, he was thrown into the dark doorway of someone’s hut who wasn’t home.
Jage lost his footing and fell to the hard, cold, dirt floor, scraping his palms a bit, and his ankle stung in pain. To be a captain of a ship one day, and then to be thrown through the air like a trout at the docks was at once embarrassing and repugnant to the twelve year old. Immediately, his blood boiled to his face, and he stood to face his attacker.
“What is the meaning of-“ Jage began, but stopped short upon seeing a friendly face. “Juba!”
Juba, his first mate from The Hampton Chase stood there, concern and sweat on his face as he peered out into the town from the doorway. The sun was hitting his skin, already slightly burnt from their most recent trip. But, the first mate did not look like his usual self. Whether or not that was because he was not currently on a boat, Jage didn’t know. He looked around the hut, seeing a bed, a stove, and a game of a ball tied to a paddle, and that was it. Nothing more to whoever lived here, and nobody was currently home.
“Sorry I threw you, Captain,” Juba said, huffing from the effort.
“I’m not your Captain anymore. Dock-to-dock, remember? We docked. We’re just two guys now. One that threw the other in here. How did you find me?”
“I wasn’t looking for you. What are you doing in Springborough? I thought you resided on the cliffs of Quakenfalls?”
“That is a long story.”
“Maybe you should tell me it.”
“First, why are you in Springborough? You and your wife live in Fortis. I would assume you would be spending some quality time with her, no? After our voyage?”
Juba looked down at the ground, taking his eyes off the town for the first time. He turned back into the hut, looking at Jage. The sailor’s eyes were red, rimmed with tired baggage, and he looked more defeated at that point than anyone the boy captain had seen recently. JJ looked at his first mate, and upon feeling weird in the quiet of the room, reached out and touched the man’s shoulder in comfort.
“I came to worn the royal children. The people of Fortis, when we got back, were preparing an attack. They mean to take the Kingdom. They heard Springborough was being run by children, and they see it as their chance to attack. But, this isn’t normal. This isn’t my people. Believe me, Captain. The people of Fortis are kind. They’re- we like to eat, and sleep, and drink, and we like to play music, and dance, and hold festivals for innocuous things. And now? Since we got back? They are arming themselves for war. It doesn’t make sense.”
There was so much in that revelation that JJ didn’t know where to start. He had known Fortis, really, from his early years, but they seemed so far away, that all he could envision was one day when he was simply sitting outside, ripping blades of grass into smaller blades of grass, watching as his tearing was guided by the green grain lines. Such a simple day outlined by the fact the sun was hot, but finding common shade behind great, big white fluffy clouds, and Jage could see, from the doorway of his Fortis hut, to the trees in the distance, and could make out the mountain on the Northern part of the land in the great distance. Laughter echoed in the skies, as well, the young boy remembered. And he had had friends his own age there.
Juba was right, not even in Jage’s memory could he imagine such a peaceful village arming for war.
The first mate coming to warn the Lishens also answered the question of what he was doing in Springborough as well.
“How are the people of Fortis even proposing to win? Sure, Prince Thomas is now the Ruler of Springborough, and he’s only twelve years old, but he still has the same guardsman as King Daniel had. Springborough is still armed to the teeth the way King Thomas before him armed it. And the army is still commanded by General Jonathon Corson, who has never even been wounded in a war, let alone lost a battle. Why do these people think they stand a chance?”
Juba sighed. He looked around the hut, the insides confirming what he already knew.
“There’s a lot of empty huts here,” Juba remarked.
“It’s the sunny day after a stormy one. I assume a lot of people are out and about.”
“They are. Do not get me wrong. The problem is, if you have a child, you are missing. Anybody that has the title of parent, and was still alive yesterday, has vanished like the storm clouds. Doesn’t matter if your child is an adult or a baby. That is the conversation in Fortis, and from what I can tell, the same in Springborough.”
Jage remembered his own parents. The bright blonde hair of his mother, Jaklyn, and the way she would swing it left to right as she walked, as if waving it to capture as much sunlight as possible. His mother was a bright woman who took the adage of “measure twice, cut once” to heart. Same with his father who seemed to turn grey in the sun. Most people, after a long day of outside work, would burn and turn red, but his father seemed to turn sweaty and grey. Jage always believed it showed just how calm his father was. Nothing riled him up. He never blushed, never grew hot in anger. His blood always stayed away from the surface.
“My parents are missing. But, they’re searching for the Lost Kingdom of Gambrille as I have told you where we were out on the waters of Cornwall.”
“Aye, but where are they now? Even if one walked North and one walked South as you have said. This isn’t that large of an island. And I doubt your parents are getting up that mountain. Which means they would have passed by each other by now. Jage, they might have even crossed paths, and still continued on, and still have been back to your sister’s hut on Quakenfalls. Where are they? And in the same breath, where are King Daniel and Queen Jenniffer?”
Jage thought about that. He heard the King and Queen had gone on a ship to see about something. That was why Brynn’s friend Jimmy had died, because he was a guard who went to the cliffs to see about weather. But, if Jage’s family had separated more than a month ago, that would mean that the King and Queen had disembarked over two months ago, and have yet to return. He had to agree with Juba- it was odd.
“But, they have a reason, too,” Jage said, referring to the royals.
“Aye, they all have reasons,” Juba replied. “Except for Larry and Donny, or don’t you remember? Our sailor mates who had children who disappeared into the storm clouds as we all came down on the rocks. Parents are disappearing, Fortis is arming, Springborough is a sitting duck. You asked why Fortis had a chance?”
“I would suspect, right now, Springborough has no clue what’s coming down on them. And more so, I suspect Springborough doesn’t know how many people of the village are missing. And, if I could get audience with this Prince Thomas, I would have him count how many guards he has left. Because, if I were a betting man, which I am, and I bet my life on stealing away from my people to warn Springborough, that them guards are a siring bunch. That with their pay, and their responsibility, that they make good spouses, and with being a good spouse comes raising a family. I would ask the Lishens children count their people. It is probably way less than once believed.”
“I can get us into the castle. It has been a weird day since we docked, but I can consider the Lishens family acquaintances,” Jage responded, standing taller than ever. He had gone from boy Pirate Captain to Royal liaison. Sooner or later, people would have to look upon him as powerful, right? Even though he only stood barely over four feet tall and his first mate was able to strong arm him in the middle of town without anybody noticing.
The people of Springborough were beginning to notice something, though, as shouts began to ring out amongst the village. People had begun to call for people. Juba and Jage went to the doorway, looking out at the town as people cupped their hands at the corners of their mouths, amplifying their voices, and shouting out into the sky. It seemed everyone was calling for the same person, but then Jage could really hear what people were saying. It wasn’t names, but rather titles.
And then a shriek broke through all the shouting, and Jage felt it in his bones. That one blood curdling scream that was devoid of all reason and was just an expression that something terrible had happened. It wasn’t for attention, but rather a scream that meant the person vocalizing it had no other choice but to let it out.
JJ erupted from his spot, running, trying to get a fix on just where it was coming from. He pushed people aside, vaguely aware of how rude he was, and how fast his first mate was following behind him, which was good, Jage knew, because he had no idea what he was going to run into next, and he was glad to have the back up. All he knew was that the shriek had come from his sister. He didn’t know how he knew it was Brynn, for he never had heard her sound so scared before, but he was absolutely certain of it. And that scared him, too.