Chapter 4

ship

Maps, Mishaps, and Maybes

“I dreamt a thousand ancient paths . . . only to wake upon a new one.”

–Mira Sorte

 

Valeo’s twirling thoughts finally fed him sleep. As if on a reel, his brain lit with the same dream that had plagued him for weeks.

It started in the usual fashion: a blurry figure, a face so much like his own, coming into focus. As ever, the sight of Valeo’s father comforted him as he tried once again to reach out and touch his cheek. Valeo mimicked Dominic’s mouth as it opened, ready to recite the same old request. Except . . . instead of beseeching Valeo to catch an Albatross as he had a hundred times, Dominic simply closed his mouth without saying a word . . .

And smiled.

A tremendous crash jerked Valeo awake. He bolted up, yelping in equal parts surprise and pain as a hulk came lumbering into the room.

With all the size and bluntness of a boulder, Valeo knew instantly she was Rageborn. She was big even for one of the Dulwani, the Rageborn clan that took only the biggest into their ranks. She towered toward the wooden planked ceiling, able to touch it if she had a mind, though it was twelve feet high. Her face was broad and bold, topped with short-cropped hair and a brow pulled into a permanent furrow as though she were the butt of some joke she still didn’t understand.

Without so much as a “how d’you do,” the Rageborn shot forward with startling speed and jerked Valeo’s shirt off in one fluid motion. She began poking and prodding all the sorest parts of his body with what felt like torturous intent, paying no heed to his cries of protest. Had she not brought fresh bandages, Valeo would have been sure it was torture.

This is Hell. Have woken up in Hell.

Then, as unceremoniously as she had entered, the woman shoved Valeo back onto the bed again and left the room with a snort, weaving between all the books and instruments with ease. She hadn’t said a word, hadn’t even helped Valeo put his shirt back on. Luckily, it didn’t have any buttons, so he was able to gently tug it over his body, one arm at a time.

Once he had time to calm down, and it became apparent his nurse wasn’t coming back, his mind returned to the dream. He had never in his life taken stock in prophecy, but this dream had happened so many times, and was always so real. He could still smell his father’s hair, even now. Catch one, Valeo, Catch an Albatross . . . we’re waiting. Over and over, night after night, so vivid that he had begun taking it seriously. Yet . . . something about it had changed.

His father had smiled. What did that mean? Was it over? Had it meant anything at all? Valeo had no answers, only more questions as he lay there, silence beckoning.

 

۝

Valeo could only muster a hunchbacked hobble but he had explored every cranny of the captain’s quarters by the first afternoon. After that, he could only rest up and think—the perfect recipe for a bad idea. He tried not to dwell too much on the Albatross, tried to reason it was stupid, that the dream didn’t mean anything to him, and it shouldn’t have. It had been a whim, so it shouldn’t be eating away at him, but it was.

He hated to lose, but underneath that irritation, Valeo knew it was more than that. There had been another reason pulling him toward the Albatross, something beyond what a dream could provide. Now that it was done, and he had fallen so short, it left him feeling hollow, brittle, and very alone.

Drake visited often, if only for a quick chat. In spite of knowing him for a few short days, Valeo found himself growing quite fond of the bearded captain. Maybe it was just the novelty of being on a ship, that slight connection to his father, or simply that Drake exuded confidence and certainty, but Valeo found himself immediately gravitating toward him.

He spent his remaining time in a mind-curdling state of boredom, nothing more interesting happening than the rolling of clouds through the glass—until he met Aya.

 

It was the fourth bedridden morning, and Valeo was counting the small jutting studs on the ceiling when a flicker of light caught his attention. His eyes darted around for a source. There, at the very top of the stained glass above the bed, was nestled a polished stone. It seemed to pulse with a light of its own. He decided, in what he thought a very mature manner, to leave well enough alone and not mess with it.

To be fair, his resolve lasted nearly thirty seconds.

Wobbly from injury and constant bed rest, he leaned against one of the yawning bedposts and reached up for the jewel. Despite his toe-cracking best efforts, it remained out of reach. He searched the room, looking for something that would support his weight. The chair beside his bed? Moving gingerly, he threw the covers back and hopped down. One tug on the chair told him it was too heavy on his steam alone. A stack of books? Too time consuming. The rickety table with the dead candle? Too bolted to the floor. At last, his eyes fell upon the ancient telescope.

Perfect.

He moved toward it, wincing as a particularly nasty throb ran along his back. The telescope was a long-tarnished monstrosity resting on three stout legs, more akin to a cannon than a spyglass. Valeo leaned forward and looked through the scope. With no glass, the view remained unimpressive. He tried moving it on its swivel, but it wouldn’t budge. His fingers fumbled at the base until he found a knob. It loosened with a squeal of protest. The telescope shifted and pivoted back and forth. He twisted the knob back in place, sealing it into position.

“Excellent.” Valeo smiled and hugged the telescope, dragging it backward toward the bed. He crawled onto the mattress, mind too focused to notice any protest from his aching body. He gripped the telescope again and gave a hearty tug, pulling it up onto the sheets, nearly flopping backward. Moving it to the window, he positioned it as firmly as he could. He adjusted the knob until the scope was level and locked it back in place. He tested it with his hands. It seemed about as stable as a telescope propped on a mattress. That was good enough for him.

With both hands on the barrel, he sprang lightly up, bare toes finding purchase on the metal. It wobbled dangerously but held. He walked his hands up the window, creeping until he could stand.

He could see the stone better now. It shimmered white, glowing even brighter than the daylight streaming through the windows below. It was easily the size of his fist. He threw one leg to the bedpost beside him for balance and stretched up on his toes. Stretching as high as he could, he reached out, feeling its smooth surface on the tips of his fingers. It was warm.

Without warning, the door slammed open behind him.

Good morning!

Valeo jerked in surprise, wobbling violently on the telescope, hands scrabbling for any hold he could manage. He caught a glimpse of a woman, eyes wide and mouth agape, before he was falling, arms flapping uselessly through the air as the telescope gave way.

He wrenched loose a handful of purple bed-curtains as he fell, sending golden rings shooting across the room, and collided with the edge of the mattress. Bouncing back up into the air, he landed with a tremendous crash in a tangle of books and fabric.

Flinging the hangings off his head, he looked around and casually propped his chin on his palm.

“Hey,” he replied smoothly, choking back a cough and tasting blood.

“What in the world are you doing?” The girl gasped. “Are you okay?” She was a little older than Valeo and even prettier than first glance suggested. Valeo checked that his mouth was closed.

“Oh that?” He glanced at the telescope, half-dangling from the bed, and the tangled heap of hangings and rings. “It’s nothing,” he said, casually waving away the mess. “Spot of cleaning.”

“Are you hurt? Should I call Logan?” she replied, a small hint of amusement now creeping up the corners of her lips.

“Logan?” asked Valeo, eyebrows lifting.

“She’s the doctor, you know, the one who’s been fixing you?” She smiled, bright as any melody, and walked to the table.

Valeo flinched. “Please no, not her. She’d just hurt me more.” He sat up, trying to sound reassuring. “No, honestly, wasn’t so bad. Caught most of it with my face.” He tapped his chin.

She laughed, revealing sparkling, perfect teeth. “There doesn’t seem to be any permanent damage.”

“But with any luck, there might have been some improvement.”

She giggled again. “You sure you’re all right? You seem a bit funny.”

“No, no, nothing that could be blamed on a bit of head trauma. That’s just me.” Valeo stood up, dusting himself off, and let the other half of the bed-curtains fall.

“The name’s Valeo. Pleased to make your acquaintance.” He glanced down. “And not to worry, usually wearing more than underpants.”

She looked down, too, her grin tightening as she tried to choke back a laugh. She held out a hand, and he shook it.

“Aya, nice to meet you.” Another smile lit up her face. The effect was like polishing the sun. Valeo felt heat rise in his cheeks.

She was short and slight, a good head below Valeo. Her mischievous brown eyes gave Valeo a sense of growing expectation, as if she was about to reveal something he desperately wanted to hear. Bright blonde hair shot with a few streaks of red was pulled up into a loud, messy knot on the back of her head, a few looping braids trailing down past her shoulders. She wore a green, sleeveless jerkin and shorts the color of faded chocolate.

“Some way to be of service?” stuttered Valeo, his usually racing mind now stone still and stuffed with cotton. “Perhaps a book?” He reached down and pulled one from the torn hangings.

“No, that’s okay.” She smiled again. “I’m not here for books. Here for that.” She sighed the last word with apparent relish, pointing toward the old map.

“Oh,” Valeo replied slowly, tossing the book back on the pile. “You going somewhere?”

She smirked and shook her head, making a simple no look like dancing. She cocked her chin to the side. She seemed to be waiting on him to guess again.

He looked closer at the map, noticing again the pins and handwriting. His face grew stern, and he waved a finger in her direction. “You’re the little deviant who’s been defacing this perfectly good map!”

She clapped her hands together. “That’s me!” she chimed. “Defacer of maps and thiever of all things worth thieving.”

Valeo threw up his hands in mock horror, reaching dramatically for his pockets to find he . . . still wasn’t wearing pants. Cover yourself, you idiot. He reached down and snatched up the hangings, pulling them around his waist and looking about for his kegs.

“Oh, don’t worry. I checked your pockets ages ago; nothing of interest there.”

He laughed. She didn’t.

“And, for your information,” she continued, pointing up to the faded map once more, “it isn’t being defaced, it’s being optimized.” She walked forward, eyes only for the stretch of canvas.

As soon as her back was turned, Valeo hurried across the room to the cupboard where his clothes lay and jammed his pants on, stifling a groan from his protesting back. He kept an eye on her as he did up the laces.

When she spoke again, her voice was fainter, as if she didn’t realize she was speaking aloud. “What is the point of a map if it isn’t up to date?”

She sprang lightly onto the sill below the map.

Valeo gaped. The sill was four feet off the ground and less than six inches wide besides. She moved back and forth along the narrow ledge, using a heavy pencil to change minute details and make notes.

“You know, I still don’t think I got the shape of the Delphine Basin quite right.” She still mostly talked to herself, biting her lip. “It’s more a sort of jagged curve, don’t you think?” She mimed a swooping angle with her arms.

“Oh, for sure,” he said absently, having no idea what the Delphine Basin was.

She grinned at him and set to reworking an edge of the Brightwin continent. “I could swear it’s getting smaller.”

He searched for something to say. “So, what’s your goal exactly? To correct every inaccuracy in the world?”

“No, not at all.”

“Oh good, because that—”

“I plan on going to every single island and continent in the skies and arranging it all clearly—and precisely—on this map.” She poked the wall hard with the last two words.

He stared up at her, flabbergasted. “What are you?” The words slipped out of his mouth before he even knew what he was saying. He inwardly kicked himself. Kind of rude, don’t you think? Much to his relief, she took it in stride.

“The navigator of the Jolly Judy, for a start. This ship couldn’t go a mile without me guiding her along.” She noticed his continued puzzlement. “You mean my race? FleetSung, mostly,” she said, twirling her hair, corkscrewing its golds and reds.

“Mostly?” Valeo replied, walking beside the map and looking up at her.

“Well, I don’t know for sure. My real parents died before we could make any memories, so all I can do is guess,” she murmured, still intent on her work.

Valeo actually kicked himself this time. Keep digging that hole, bright guy.

“Oh, sorry.” He hesitated. “Know what that’s like.” Another unfamiliar flush crept across his cheeks. Picking up an oil pencil, he rolled it absently between his fingers, lost in his own thoughts.

She glanced down at him and winked. “It’s okay. My dad, I mean Captain Drake, says my happiness and good cheer . . . is Heartsung.” She pointed at her blonde hair and brown eyes. “And ’cause I try to steal anything that isn’t nailed down . . . Cespin says I’m Fleetfeet.” She captured a red highlight flowing down her shoulder.

“Hey!” Valeo interjected, feigning offense. “All Fleetfeet don’t steal everything not nailed down.” He flashed a wicked smile. “Respectable ones try and steal the nailed things, too.”

“An entrepreneur!” She beamed at him. “You must teach me your tricks. Though, you aren’t entirely Fleetfeet either, are you?” She indicated the white in his hair. “A Fleetfoot that’s been moonkissed, you are a rarity.”

Valeo shrugged. He’d heard the term before. “Lots of folk are a bit moonkissed,” he argued, tugging on a patch of white on his head. “It’s supposed to be lucky.”

“Guess that makes you twice lucky,” she countered. “As I said, a rarity.” She held his gaze for a moment, then turned back to her work.

The minutes passed with only the sound of Aya’s scratching pencil. Valeo, with nothing clever left to say, sank into the red armchair and watched her work. She was precise in her movements, each stroke deliberate and careful.

“Done!” she exclaimed finally, effortlessly hopping down from the ledge. She looked at him and smiled, a black smudge on her cheek. “Well, see you.”

Valeo scrambled for one last thing to say. “What do you think?”

She turned, looking confused. “About what?”

Valeo cleared his throat, feeling his stomach lurch as he plowed on. “You told me what your dad and Cespin thought, but what do you think you are?”

She considered it, a slight crease appearing on her forehead. “Hope I’m anything and everything.” She grinned again, opened the door, and was gone.

“Is there a rule that everyone on this ship has to be profound?” Valeo asked the room aloud. He sat shaking his head, for the first time in days thinking about something other than birds and bruises.

 

۝

The morning after Valeo met Aya, and a few minutes after his behemoth nurse had left, Drake came into the room.

“Breakfast?” Valeo yawned, sitting up and stretching.

“Yes. But there has also been word from Logan. Remarkably, you are already almost healed.” He looked disbelieving. “How have you managed that?”

Valeo shrugged. “Hurt a lot, heal a lot.”

Drake’s eyes flickered with amusement. “So, I thought it time you got out of bed, because surely you have not already?”

“Thank Fayt.” Valeo ignored the dig, threw back the sheets and leapt to his feet, already dressed. His back still stung, but it was better than the day before. He hopped back and forth on his feet, shaking stiffness from his limbs.

“We’ll make landfall in Heartstone in less than an hour, and I have something I would like to discuss.” He turned and held the door open. “Shall we dine on deck?”

Valeo’s smile faltered. What was there to talk about?

He pulled on his vest, trying to do up the buttons and only succeeding with the bottom two before forgetting what he was doing. Did Drake expect Valeo to pay for passage? That has to be it. You can’t skate for free ol’ boy, not on every pond. He started for the door where Drake waited, hand held out toward the brightness beyond.

Maybe he wants to hire me to catch giant birds? Valeo drew level with Drake, who looked quite placid. Or wants to lock me up for breaking onto his ship?

Valeo aimed a sharp glance at the captain and walked through the door into warm sunshine. Onto? How do you break “onto” a ship? There isn’t anything to break, you just walk on. Seriously, if—

Valeo’s thoughts cut off abruptly. He’d seen the deck late at night and during the early morning, but in those inked silences the aged wood had creaked a lonely tale. Its moors, masts, and rigging all hanging forlorn and alone, as if the ship were some forgotten plaything of a god long since moved on to better toys.

The sunlit scene before him now spun a different story. The ship swarmed with activity. Men and women hustled about, checking lines and battening sails to slow the ship. Valeo saw Aya, blonde hair bouncing as she held the wheel. She noticed him looking and waved. He grinned and waved back.

Drake followed Valeo’s gaze and chuckled.

The atmosphere was one of focus, everyone set on doing their respective tasks. Though busy, the crew’s mood was bright, the deck filled with catcalling and other benign ribbing.

Valeo continued moving forward, Drake falling into step beside him. Valeo peered around at the different sights, many of the crew nodding to him and continuing on about their business. To his great surprise, a few even greeted him directly.

“Kingsfoot.”

“How d’ya do, your Fleet-ship?”

“Good morning, m’lord.”

Valeo answered each of the crew with a frown. Drake noticed his confusion and laughed.

“You’ve been granted a . . . title by the crew.” He tried to hide his amusement as he spoke. “They say that only a king would think himself mighty enough to catch an Albatross, and only a Fleetfoot king would be lucky enough to make it out alive.”

Valeo sputtered and choked but soon shrugged it off, chuckling. “Well, if there had to be a nickname . . . can think of a lot worse.” Valeo strolled over to the gunnel and sat down, running his hands along the smooth surface of the railing. “Folks’ll take kindly to a handsome devil like me being addressed as ‘m’lord.’” He looked absolutely anywhere but toward the helm.

“Wear it if you will,” Drake replied, “but take it from me, such attention grows wearisome faster than you think.”

Valeo’s eyes were unfocused, a little grin forming as he was lost in dreams of said attention, when Drake lobbed something at his head. Valeo jerked out of the way at the last second, hands instinctively reaching up to catch the object before it flew over the railing.

He looked down, almost dropping the fruit in his surprise. It was nearly the size of a melon, but melon was too paltry a word to describe what he held between his hands. Bright yellow with red streaks like jagged lightning running over every inch of it . . . Valeo’s stomach groaned.

“Try it,” Drake coaxed.

Valeo didn’t need to be told twice and took a bite. As its skin implied, the taste of it hit him like a thunderbolt, skipping from his legs to his scalp. His cheeks cringed as a thousand ripe, red apples combined into one perfect mouthful. But it was somehow even more than that, an uncountable number of flavors jostling to be recognized. The taste felt alive, tingling in his mouth. Despite having made a life of devouring every apple in sight, Valeo had never eaten its like, not even close.

Valeo turned to Drake, mouth bulging. “What isth thish?” He smacked his lips and crammed in another bite, still feeling that curious surge shiver through his body. “Ish inkebible!”

Drake took a bite from his own and swallowed. “Do you not already know? I thought that, despite your death wishes, you were a man who knew a little more about the world than that.”

Think it’s an elderfruit . . .” Valeo hesitated, searching Drake’s face between mouthfuls. “But there’s no way. It couldn’t be.”

Drake frowned. “And why’s that?” His tone was that of a teacher addressing an overexcited pupil.

“Well, for one thing, this is the Emerald Expanse. We’re thousands of miles from Vernadon. Second, if it was an elderfruit, that means this one alone”—he held up the now near-devoured remains in his hand—“would cost as much as your ship. And you have two. Probably more if you risked throwing one overboard.” The streaks of red went all the way to the core and seemed to be the source of the tingling.

“If you can afford that, you’re the wealthiest man in Heartstone, maybe even more than that little grumpkin magistrate Benetzio, and he’s a Timeless.” He finished the last few fragments of white flesh, gnawing the core even as he spoke. “And if you do have more, where do you keep them?”

Drake leaned on one leg, eyebrow cocked at Valeo. “You certainly talk a lot.”

“Only about food.”

Drake chortled. “They are indeed elderfruit. But I did not pay for them. I never pay for something I can reach out”—he snatched something invisible out of the air with a wink—“and take.”

Valeo let out a low whistle.

“Alas,” Drake said and took a few bites. “These were the last two”—he shoved the remainder into his mouth—“on board.”

Valeo cursed, running his fingers along his thumbs and licking his lips. Sighing, he tore his eyes from the captain to peer out over the rails. He could see Heartstone now, its paved avenues as familiar to him as his palm lines. He couldn’t help smiling as he thought of those smoky, cobbled streets. Every story he had began or ended there.

Drake smashed the fruit’s core on the rail, revealing a small golden pit. “But, I wanted to talk to you about more than fruit.” He pocketed the pit. Drake noticed Valeo watching. “I would suggest you keep yours as well,” he said, brushing his hands on his pants. “Anyway, I wanted to make you an offer,” he continued, oblivious to Valeo’s confused look. “You know what I am, yes? You’ve figured out what we are?”

Valeo nodded. The captain, the cargo, the crew’s general manner . . . the signs were all there. “Corsairs.”

“Precisely,” Drake agreed. “You know what that means, don’t you?”

Valeo nodded. “You steal from those who can afford it, never from those who can’t,” he recited. It was common knowledge. Corsairs even had a somewhat vogue popularity about them. “My father was one.” Even as he said the words, excitement welled up in Valeo, and he fought the smile bubbling just below his lips.

“Was he now?” Drake’s eyes twinkled. “Well then, it is my wish for you to take The Eight.”

Valeo, who had been smashing his own apple core on the rail, gave a start and almost dropped the pit. He had heard those words before. Every child who had read Threepwin’s Treasure and Tales, all of Herwick Drassiter’s countless adventures, knew them by heart. The Eight were how you became a Corsair. Feats of daring—searching out lost treasures guarded by monsters, deadly rituals by the light of the quarter moon—what exactly The Eight were varied from story to story. Now someone was daring him.

“But why,” asked Valeo, mouth still open. “Why would you want me? You hardly know me, been breaking your stuff since we met, and, if anything, you should want me arrested.”

“Things broken can be rebuilt,” countered Drake. “Things stolen can be replaced. Much more important than any material wealth is the wealth of someone’s character. I don’t want to have you arrested. Quite the contrary. I feel your actions warrant opportunity.”

“Theft, trespassing, destruction of property, and reckless endangerment warrant opportunity?” Valeo said, gaping openly.

Drake gave an exaggerated look at those around him and leaned forward. “Sounds like a Corsair to me.” He stepped back and winked. “What do you say?” He looked out over the cramped and crowded streets of the Heartstone harbor district. “Everyone should have a chance, and the less I know of someone means they have that much more to prove. Will you consider it? Will you take The Eight?”

Valeo didn’t know what to say. This was something he had wanted for as long as he cared to recall, a pirate to say these words to him, and in his dreams he had always answered immediately. It would mean he could sail the world, discover things he had always imagined but never brought to voice. It meant he could find . . . them.

But imagining diving off a cliff was a lot easier than actually being on the edge. He stood there, rocking on more weight than just his heels.

“I do not offer these words lightly,” Drake pressed. “In fact, I have never made the offer to anyone unless I was completely sure.” Drake was trying to convince him, misunderstanding his trepidation. “It is not an easy road, and I cannot say how you will return, if ever you return at all. Only the Fayts know for certain if it will be for better or worse. But what we become lies in the company we keep, and I will help keep you on the straight. Well, as straight as any self-respecting Corsair hopes to be. And it will be nice having a bit more Fleetfeet onboard. Nothing wrong with a spot more luck, I say.”

Valeo dropped the pit into his pocket and flung what remained of the elderfruit over the rail, watching it spiral down through open air until it was lost from sight.

He could actually do it. Blood pumped in his ears, drowning out Drake’s words even more than his own thoughts. Drake was now speaking animatedly and gesturing with his arms. Whatever he was talking about looked important.

Was this what the dream, his father, had been leading him toward? This scene, this hand he had been played? If so, why had the damn Albatross been so important? Valeo was sick of trying to figure it out, now more irritated by the mystery than intrigued.

And what about Breeze? Valeo couldn’t leave her behind. They had talked about escaping together endlessly, whittling dreams into the early hours of endless mornings. But would she actually come? Valeo knew she wanted to, but she was reluctant, and rightly so, with what she was capable of. She needed a final shove, and he thought he knew where to push. Valeo nodded, making up his mind, and pulled himself back to the present.

“It is a hard life but a valuable one, with meaning for those who wish to seek it.” Drake was on the tail end of what had surely been an epic speech. Valeo noticed that many of the crew had stopped altogether to watch. He jerked, for the first time really taking in their faces.

People from all over Sora stared back at him, almost twenty in all. Most were Riverworn, their hair alight with patches of different colors, meaning they belonged to no one single race. Even so, he could clearly make out Brightwin noses and hulking tanned Rageborns. There were the blonde heads of Heartsung, the silver-haired, graceful shapes of Evenglass, even a rugged Sunstrider near the back mast, his skin a deep brown, the eagle on his shoulder—his lifestay—marking him for what he was. It was as if the whole world existed on this single ship.

“So what do you say?” Drake asked in a voice that carried across the deck. “Anyone brave enough to cross an Albatross is worth taking on chance alone.”

Valeo remembered his own two feet in the conversation.

Get a hold of yourself. You’ve never hesitated a second in your life, don’t you dare start now.

Valeo grinned, a course of action weaving through his mind. “Will let you know.”

Drake looked confused. “Is that a . . .” he searched for a word, “maybe?”

“Oh, it’s a definite maybe,” Valeo replied, smirking.

Many of the people on board looked confused or annoyed. Some snorted and others rolled their eyes. Aya alone laughed hard and loud, a chorus of approval.

Drake chuckled. “I should have known.”

“What?” said Valeo. “You wanted a straight answer?” He shook his head, regaining a bit of his swagger. “Nasty things, those. No room to wiggle.”

Heartstone was upon them now. Valeo could see the dirty, winding streets that ran behind the docks, jostling vendors hawking everything from flatware to fried finch. Even from this distance, he could point out buildings where he’d learned to run and jump. His old, dried blood probably still marked his progress across the stock and stone of inns, aviaries, and shops for miles.

“Well, you have some time to mull it over.” Drake said, turning to face Valeo, arms crossed. He was an imposing figure, flintlock and sword glinting at his waist, brown frock coat whipping in the wind. “Since we are here, surely my crew will want to try their hand in the fabled ‘Trials.’ They are to be held here this year, no? I hear the prizes for winning can be quite . . . lucrative.” A sly grin crept across his scrubby cheeks.

“So think it over.” Drake clapped his hand on Valeo’s shoulder. “You might just be worth as much as the damage you wreak. A bit of calamity is good for every ship anyway. Keeps us sharp on how to patch things up, lest we forget.

“We stay until the Trials finish. After that, we sail, with or without you. But I truly hope it is with. Oh, and Valeo?” the captain added. “I promise you this. The first thing we can do is seek out your father. Nothing stays lost forever, least of all from a Corsair.” With that, Drake turned on his heel and strolled away.

As if on cue, the rest of the crew turned face and continued their tasks with the same breath as before, paying Valeo no more heed than the wood beneath their feet. The Fleetfoot stood stunned, unable to find his breath, the captain’s final words rolling over him again and again. His heart began to race, begging him to take action.

The final preparations were made, the sails were battened, and the Jolly Judy glided gracefully into dock. Valeo hopped over the gunnel, landing flat-footed on the uneven stone before the ship had come to a full stop. He looked over his shoulder and saw Drake. The captain nodded to him, and his eyes twinkled. Aya was there, too.

Valeo turned before either one of them could see his smile and hurried away down the pier, dodging around grim-faced dockhands. He already knew his answer.

He was going to be a Corsair.

He had so much to do first. He had to convince Breeze to come, convince Drake to let her, and then there was also the tiny snag of breaking into a fortress and re-appropriating a stolen watch—all within days. He had absolutely no idea how he was going to do any of it.

Ah well, he’d figure something out.

He laughed and began to run, the world around him only picking up speed.

 

Are You Ready To Take the Plunge?

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