Master of the Isles
Brenna R. Singman
As a section of beach exploded beside me, I had to wonder for the hundredth time why Captain Swift brought us to the Seven Isles. I shielded my eyes from sharp sand raining down on those who remained, and we bolted for the tree line of the central land mass in a secluded swath of ocean. I dared to peek back. Still bodies strewn about the reddening shore made my stomach clench. Some had the venomous green sashes of the Pirate King-self appointed, but few dared to argue. Others, most in fact, had the black and gold bandanas of Captain Swift's makeshift band of the doomed.
"Freedom is forward, boy!" said the bloody bulk of a man beside me as he grabbed my arm. My legs stumbled to match his pace as we reached the tentative shelter of trees.
I grumbled the words that tasted worse than the clumping sand on my tongue. Captain Swift-or Captain Swiftly Mad as I liked to say, but never in earshot-had a death wish. I knew it since the night he woke me from an otherwise pleasant dream to set sail for Desta Island nearly naked. It was the den of thieves and murderers. I never questioned Captain Swift before, not even that night, although as he sat in a tavern at a group of crooked, stained tables stained tables, surrounded by every manner of scarred, tattooed, and maimed man with nothing to lose, I had my first doubts.
"We're takin' the Seven Isles," Captain Swift told them after wiping his frothy beard on the back of his hand. I choked on spit mid yawn.
"Yer mad," one man announced. The spittle couldn't escape his wiry gray beard as it launched through his missing front teeth. "A sandy death trap is all that is."
"My sandy death trap," Captain Swift said, leaning back in his chair. "It don't belong to the Rat King."
The men shared glances that immediately shifted back to the table at the addition of a cloth bag spilling gold coins. They didn't speak another word as Captain Swift laid out a map and planned their course. I sat silently and eyed a tavern whore to steal my first drink and first woman before my life was cut short.
The trees were sparse, and it didn't take long for a clearing to open up. Within it was a crumbling stone stronghold. Captain Swift held his hand up. I flinched as the trees some hundred yards behind us cracked and snapped with another burst shot. One of the shaky crewmen screamed and ran forward out of the trees only to be cut down by a bullet. Pride filled my belly as I saw the smoke rising from the gunman before he ducked back down to hide.
"The eastern turret, Cap'n!" I said, pointing to the shadowed side of the stout building. In the next breath, there was a scream as another shot rang out and the pirate fell from his tower.
"Good eye, boy," he said, scruffing my hair.
More bullets tore through the air as the Captain led his men forward towards the lone structure on the small island.
"That be far enough," came a gruff voice. A thin man, laden in torn cloth, belts, holsters, and a deep green bandana over his scarred head, leaned against the grimy wall above and spat a wad of phlegm at the group.
"Right where I expect the Coward King to be," Swift said. He reached for his left leg, and I nearly corrected him until I remembered what weapon sat in his left holster.
"Her name is Justice," Captain Swift said as he hefted the pistol in our quarters. "And she always gets the last laugh."
"Justice..." I said then, running a finger along its pristine short barrel and the painted etchings on the grip.
I whispered it again as Captain Swift twirled the gun around his finger. The Pirate King swung his legs over the side of the stone wall. A crowd of gasps filled the clearing as he dropped from on high, rolled over the sandy ground, and stood up with a gun drawn just a few yards in front of us.
Fear strangled me as two shots rang out. My heart stopped for what felt like eternity. The crowd around me started cheering and running forward before I knew what was happening. They clapped the captain's back and stomped the ground around the fresh corpse of the Pirate King.
"Ain't all he's cracked up to be!"
"Pathetic fraud! Swift is king!"
"King of the Seven Isles! Small and mighty!"
Captain Swift looked back at my hideout beside the tree line. He quirked a smile and his lips parted like he was going to speak. Then the deep brown of his eyes glazed over. He raised the hand that had been holding his stomach from belly laughs, now streaming red with blood, and he collapsed into the arms of his now loyal crew. Swears and moans rang out to the heavens, and my breathing labored. All my life, Captain Swift had been beside me. He promised to teach me everything that would make me a real man. From learning to aim a pistol to my first time raising a mast, to rubbing dirt in the wound of my first fall after mother passed, Swift was there. And he had succeeded.
"Quit your bellyaching, maggots!" I yelled, scrubbing the wet from my eyes. My voice felt firm, deep, ready for any trial. Just as the captain taught me. "You ain't doin' that crying on my island. Got it?"
There was a brief silence. Then the crew cheered, "Aye, Cap'n!"
I looked around the spit of land that was my birthright. Buried in the tower were the Swift family heirlooms, more valuable than any dubloon. I understood what it meant to fight for what was yours, no matter how big or small. It was mine, and like my father did, I would die to keep it that way now that I was home.
"The isles ain't just mine," Swift said, staring at the sunset on the last day before reaching Desta Island. "It's yours. Swift continues with you. Protect it."