Chapter 10 ~ Trouble on the Sea
Justin watched the clouds with interest. They looked like they might enjoy tossing a ship around in their winds. There had been no storms on the seas for a good few weeks now and a tempest was due any time. It was always interesting work sailing through storms and Justin was glad the girls were no longer on board to be thrown about in it. Dabria would no doubt insist on being on deck no matter how bad the swells.
“Watch it, you…” the words were drowned out by a bucket being slammed to the deck.
“You’re the one in the way! Move it, clod!” The disgruntled crew member yelled back.
“You are always pushing things, Mentope! We shoulda thrown you overboard long ago!”
“Try it and see what happens!” Mentope screamed back.
Justin sighed as ‘Fight’ was yelled across the deck and crewmembers everywhere dropped their work to watch. Tempers had been tight lately, but there was no cause for this. He watched from his spot on the poop deck to see if he needed to intervene. He knew who had started it and he could punish them whenever he got the chance. Movement on the starboard side told him that Maath was heading into the fray. It would be settled soon, whether they wanted it to or not.
A burst of cold air on his back made him shiver slightly. The wind was definitely picking up. He grinned. He hadn’t raced the wind in a while, this would be fun. It would keep the restless crew busy for a bit too.
“Maath!” He called down to the main deck.
Maath looked up and yelled, “Aye, Captain!”
“Let’s race the wind. Full sail!”
Maath laughed and called out, “Full sail, mates! Move it!”
The crew immediately lost interest in the fights with shouts of glee. Under Maath’s directions, The Guardian Star responded beautifully. Her sails quickly caught the wind and she moved at a much faster clip. Justin could feel the sea under her boards and it brought up a childlike joy that was more on par with Dabria’s attitude than his. But this was what he had come to love, the adrenaline of the sea.
“Ship moving fast dead astern!” A call came down from the crow’s nest above.
Justin frowned and looked, but could see nothing behind him and still stay at the wheel. “Namid!” He called.
Wherever Namid had been, he appeared immediately at Justin’s side.
“Take the helm.” Justin handed over the wheel and moved to the rail. He didn’t need his spyglass to see the ship. Somehow it had managed to get quite close already and it wasn’t slowing down.
“He is coming up fast,” Justin muttered.
“Too fast,” Maath said from his side.
Justin glanced at him. “Can you make out the flag?”
“Not yet,” he replied after a moment, “but is dark in nature.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Why?” Maath questioned.
“Something feels wrong.”
Maath nodded. “Trust your instincts, if something feels off, it usually is.”
“Right. Get us out of here.”
“Aye, aye, Captain, but we put most of the speed into the sails already. She won’t go much faster than now.”
“I don’t want that ship to catch us.”
Suddenly, a loud bang rang out clearly and a mighty splash forced water all around Justin and Maath. The cannon ball had missed them by only a few meters.
“He fired on me!” Justin shouted, anger quickly boiling up.
“Brave captain,” Maath muttered.
“Stupid captain! No one fires on the Black Panther!”
“Well…” Maath started, but Maath was cut off by another cannon shot. This one managed to hit the port side, but just barely.
“He hit me! He’s getting closer! Namid! Turn the ship! Maath, return fire! I want him dead in the water!” Justin shouted angrily.
Instead of replying, both men rushed to their duties. Namid made an almost violent turn starboard and his action saved the ship from another hit. Maath yelled orders down to the crew, who scrambled to put more wind into the already full sails, while others ran out their own cannons.
Justin watched as the ship continued to bare down on them. It irked him that this ship could apparently keep up with his own. The Guardian Star was legendary on the Ula Ocean for its speed. No one had yet been able to reproduce it, and yet, this phantom ship was matching her.
“Namid!” Justin yelled when another cannon ball just barely missed.
“I’m sorry, Captain. Dodging is keeping the needed speed out of the sails. That ship is going full windward. We no longer are.”
“Captain!” Maath called up from the main deck before jumping up the steps to land on the forecastle deck. “He’s going to ram us!”
Justin let out a curse and looked back to the other ship. This time he paid more carefully attention to the direction and speed of the ship verses his own. Justin clenched his fist. He was on ramming course.
“Can we avoid it?” He asked, his voice low and strangely calm to his own ears.
Namid and Maath glanced at each other and then at the ship pursuing them.
“Not without causing a good deal of damage. He’s too close.”
“He’s on the port side, by a little. Maath, drop the sails. No dead stop, but we need to pull behind instead of ahead. Namid, turn us starboard sharply at the same time. We’ll give a small target as possible and we’ll still be too large.”
“It’s risky, Captain,” Namid cautioned.
“We don’t have a choice. Move!” Justin commanded.
The flurry of activity was immediate though it was obvious the crew didn’t actual agree with their captain. Still, the threat was real and no one questioned, but moved about their duties.
Who was this captain who would pose such a real threat to the Black Panther? There had been no warning shot, no reason to fight, and yet this captain was obviously set on causing as much damage as possible and headless to his own ship’s welfare. Why?
There was no time to wonder as the ship was forcefully moved to the starboard side and just as suddenly jerked into a slower pace. Justin regained his footing and looked back to the other ship. It never wavered from its course, but kept on at full speed. Justin frowned. There was no way it could ram his own ship now, but apparently that didn’t matter to whoever this captain was. Instead, the ship passed diagonally to The Guardian Star and kept moving, firing cannon balls as it moved. Justin flinched when he heard the bang and cracking of wood that meant his ship had been hit somewhere on the deck.
As the ship moved past, Justin saw its captain standing on the poop deck, arms crossed in front of his chest. His face was half hooded by his cavalier hat with its huge plume, but his expression of disgust couldn’t be hidden. Justin could almost feel the force of his eyes. It was a blatant challenge. Whoever this man was, he wasn’t going away. Justin’s eyes dropped down to the name of the ship. The Dandy was proudly displayed, but not proudly enough. Justin could clearly see that the name had been scarred off and replaced and he could still see the large X that had covered the original name. Though it was gone, Justin had little doubt that a BP had been branded over that name. It was a ship the Black Panther had hit in the past. No wonder he had been so aggressive.
The captain raised his arm and The Dandy fired again. The ship was moving away from The Guardian Star now, but the cannon ball managed to rip a large hole into the hull. Just that quickly, the ship was leaving and in its wake was a badly hurt Guardian Star. Justin stood on her deck, completely stunned.
“Captain?” Namid’s voice came from behind him.
“The ship was hit three times. The first is just a rough patch, but the second and third put a hole through the main deck and the hull. We need to do repairs immediately.”
“How far are we from port?” Justin asked.
“We were headed to Yakecan. We aren’t too far from there now.”
“Can we make it?”
“If we do some rough patching now, we should, but the winds are still bad. I’m afraid we’re in for a squall,” Namid admitted.
Justin sighed, feeling drained and still angry all at once. “Fine. Do what you can and head to Yakecan. I’ll be in my cabin.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” Namid answered, but he didn’t move.
“This isn’t your fault, Justin. This pirate had a score to settle.”
“Or the Black Panther. Either way, you couldn’t have stopped this.”
“I should be better than this,” Justin protested.
Namid shook his head. “No, you do not have that experience. Even Maath and I didn’t see it coming until almost too late. You did right.”
“Maybe,” Justin replied, before turning and walking to his cabin.
He closed the door with a bang. He might not have the experience now, but he would get it. The next time he saw that ship, and he had no doubt he would, he would crush it.
“Where is she?” He muttered.
He had been waiting for over an hour and he was getting testy. He had not been able to get Dabria from her own house this time, instead staying to oversee the repairs to his ship. He frowned as he watched the finishing touches being put on the repair work while they waited at the Yakecan docks.
Justin clenched a fist in anger at the thought of the other captain. He couldn’t have been much older than Justin himself, but his expression had been one of hate and disgust. It made Justin furious to see that haunting expression even in his dreams. He couldn’t get the incident out of his mind and he didn’t want to. What he did want was revenge for his ship and his name. Justin was imagining their next meeting, when a holler of hello reached his ears from the dock.
He listened as the guard on duty called out and heard Inu’s answering call. ~ Finally, it’s about time they showed up. ~ He walked to the rail and looked down to see Dabria and Inu and Salena and Sheron walking up the gangplank. He frowned, something was off.
He studied the four young people and realized what it was. They were walking in twos. Dabria wasn’t walking with Inu, he was escorting her. She was only fourteen, but she was walking as if she was older. Inu said something, and Dabria laughed, behind them Salena mentioned something to Sheron and he grinned at her and nodded. Justin shook his head, what was going on?
Just then Dabria glanced up and saw him. She grinned and waved widely at him. He shook his head and waved back. Maybe he was imagining things. After all, that wave had been more Pixie like, then some high born lady’s wave. The four reached the top of the gangplank and Inu and Sheron bowed to the girls who giggled and curtseyed back, causing Justin to frown yet again. What was going on?
Justin watched Dabria and Salena carefully as they made their way towards him. They stopped to great every sailor they saw and so it took them a long time to finally make their way to him. Dabria smiled up at him, when they finally reached his side.
“What is going on with you two?” Justin asked with a slight edge in his voice.
Dabria and Salena glanced at each other, then Dabria spoke, “Um, what do you mean Justin? We just got on board, how in all of Zerlinda did we manage to upset you so quickly?”
“You must mean besides the fact that I sent Inu and Sheron to get you over an hour ago,” Justin commented.
Dabria shrugged. “We came as fast as we could. It did take them a while to load all our things.”
“All your things? What are you talking about? Just how much did you bring?” Justin inquired looking back to the dock where two more hands had gone to the carriage to help Inu and Sheron unload. Justin frowned and did a quick count. Then he turned to stare at the girls in shock. “What is all that? You brought seven trunks! Since when do you need all that for your trip?”
Dabria looked at him innocently. “We are grown girls now. Each occasion needs a different outfit and there are ever so many of them.”
“Seven trunks?” Justin repeated. “Did you leave anything behind?”
“Of course, silly. We didn’t bring any of our spring ware,” she replied calmly.
“Spring ware?” Justin could only repeat, tuning his gaze back to the trunks.
“Are you going to repeat everything that is said?” Salena asked.
“If it is necessary,” Justin responded, his mind elsewhere. Suddenly, he turned back to face both girls. “And since when do you stop to greet every crew member on this ship?”
Again, Dabria looked at him with her most innocent face. “Did we? Oh. Well, shouldn’t we express our gratitude for their hard work in taking us over to see Kiliki and Tommy so often? I thought we were just being nice. What do you think, Salena?” Dabria turned slightly to look at her best friend.
Salena gave her an amused grin and shook her head. “Oh, yes, Dabria, I’m sure that is just what we were doing,” her voice held a tone of barely restrained sarcasm.
“Dabria,” Justin said his voice firm.
“Oh stop,” Dabria sighed. “Kirstena simply informed us how good we have it with all these good looking strong guys willingly transporting us all the time. So, we thought we should be more appreciative.”
“Oh, you did, did you?” Justin looked at her, raising an eyebrow. “Well, now they know, so quite being such a distraction and let them do their jobs. In case you haven’t noticed, you and your trunks are making us run late.”
“Us? You’re still repairing the ship!” Dabria exclaimed, and then scrutinized the deck. “Speaking of which, what happened?”
“Not a topic up for discussion.” Inu walked up then and gave a quick report that the girls were all loaded. Justin nodded. “We are setting sail why don’t you go watch,” he suggested as he turned to head up to the quarterdeck.
“What bit him?” Dabria asked Salena loud enough for Justin to hear.
“Don’t know, but this might be a long trip. Are you going to let it bother you?”
Justin turned slightly to see Dabria shoot her friend a grin. “Nope, let’s go watch and cheer up some of the guys. If Justin is this cranky, they are going to need it!”
The girls walked off in the opposite direction, once again saying hi to the sailors as they went. Justin frowned. They were directly disobeying him and unless he was mistaken Dabria was enjoying it too.
Justin turned from the wheel at the sound of Dabria’s voice. She stood just behind him, her hands hidden behind her back. Justin studied her for a second. She had grown taller since boarding his ship that first time, but strangely enough, not that much taller. She was still short for her age and her face and light blue eyes still held that pixie look of playfulness and innocence, though Justin wasn’t fooled. Her white blond hair was longer now and hung to the middle of her back. On the ship she was smart enough to keep it in a braid. Her skin tone had deepened because of the time she spent outside, but it was still very fair. Her blue dress hung on her frame prettily and Justin realized with amusement that she no longer looked like a rather sick ten-year-old, but like a young girl growing up. He noticed again that her hands were behind her back and glanced at her face, realizing that she looked almost nervous. Now that was an odd thought indeed, to see Dabria Richerson nervous about anything.
“What is it, Pixie? Are you all right?” He asked curiously.
She nodded her head yes. “Are you feeling any better? You were in a sour mood when we boarded.”
“That was days ago,” Justin protested.
Dabria shrugged. “So?”
Justin shook his head. “Never mind. Did you want something? I thought Namid had already given you a chance to steer today.”
“He did, earlier. That wasn’t what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Oh, this is a serious conversation? Do I need to sit or perhaps call for the nets to be ready to drag you out of the water?” He teased.
She frowned at his mentioning of her jumping overboard. “No, nothing that rash. Actually, I didn’t really want to talk, as much as to… well, to give you this.” She held a piece of paper to him.
He frowned taking it. “What is it?”
“Well, look and you’d find out,” her voice saying she thought it was a dumb question.
Justin glanced at her, and then turned the paper over. On it was a pencil drawing of the stern of the ship with the name The Guardian Star shown proudly. Standing above it on the deck, was a portrait of Justin himself. Justin glanced up at Dabria then looked back at the drawing. He was wearing a billowed shirt, dark trousers, and calf-length boots. One foot rested on the rail and he was leaning over the side slightly as if something off in the distance had caught his attention. His face was calm and concentrated.
He looked up from the picture again, to Dabria, who was still watching him nervously. “Is this for me?”
She nodded. “You know how we were thanking the men earlier for taking us across the ocean all the time? Well, the truth is, you do more than any of them and you’ve been a great friend, more like a big brother to Salena and I. And when Salena saw the drawing I had made, she thought you might like to have it. We’d be honored if you would keep it as a token of our thanks.”
“Where is Salena?” Justin asked.
“In the cabin. She thought it would be best if I gave you the drawing by myself, though she didn’t say why,” Dabria replied honestly.
Justin nodded not pushing the question.
“Um, do you like it?” Dabria finally asked.
Justin smiled. “Yes. You are an amazing artist, Pixie. I’m flattered you’d do a drawing on me. I’m honored to keep it.”
A huge smile lit up Dabria’s face. “Oh, good.”
“Thank you,” Justin said seriously.
“You’re welcome. Thanks for all you do for Salena and I, even if we are pains sometimes.”
Justin laughed. “You wouldn’t be the same girls if you weren’t. Will you take the wheel for a moment, so I can safely put this in my cabin?”
Dabria nodded and eagerly took hold of the ship’s wheel. Justin pointed out their heading and Dabria turned the wheel slightly then straightened it again.
“I’ll be right back,” he said.
“Take you time.” Dabria’s reply was happy and content.
Justin smiled at her then moved off to his cabin. Once inside, he studied the drawing again. The details and lines were amazing. It was a flattering picture and Justin was impressed with Dabria’s skill as an artist. He was amazed that she had taken the time to sketch him. It was flattering, but more than that Justin felt a great affection for the little girl who had grown up with him on his ship. He placed the drawing gently on his desk. He would have it waterproofed later. He wanted it preserved for a very long time.
The fog was far too thick and the ship had to go at an agonizingly slow pace to move through it. Fog was the most dangerous factor against any ship. It could hide anything on or under the ocean. Namid was at the wheel and lookouts were posted all along the ship’s rail, but everyone was on edge. Justin more so.
The girls had been dropped off ages ago and Justin had spent every minute since searching for the pirate that had damaged his ship so badly. Now, he could almost swear it was following him in the fog. Snatches were the only thing he could see and yet it made no sense that anyone else but The Dandy’s captain was out there.
“Staring at it like that is only going to make your eyes hurt. The fog ain’t moving,” Maath commented with a smile.
Justin growled. “I know.”
Maath nodded and leaned against the rail observing his captain, but saying nothing.
“He’s out there, Maath. I know he is.”
“Now, how can you tell that?” Maath questioned.
“I can feel it. He’s following us.”
“Why does it matter?” Maath asked next.
Justin swung around to look at his first mate. “Why does it matter? He tore up my ship! He threatened our lives! He challenged the Black Panther and he won! There isn’t a worse insult!”
“He might not have known,” Maath pointed out.
“He knew,” Justin grumbled. “He had too. I could see his ship’s name clearly. He made sure of it. He knew exactly what he was doing.”
“Then why? What would posses a pirate to challenge the Black Panther?”
“Someone out for revenge. There are plenty of them, just no one stupid enough to try before.” Justin clenched his teeth. “I’ll fix that. When I find him and finish him, no one will ever dare challenge me.”
Maath looked at him silently for a moment, before responding quietly, “That’s a tall order, Justin. And one you can’t come back from.”
Justin swung to look at him. “Why would I want too? I’m supposed to be the most feared pirate on the Ula Ocean. If anyone thinks he can challenge me, than that means nothing. But I can fix that. I will fix it.”
“Captain Jacer’s reputation came not from what he did to the people, but to the ships and that he could attack anyone anywhere. He was the pirate among the pirates. What of that do you want to change?”
“Nothing, but I want it to be bigger and better,” Justin responded. “I will be better than even Tommy.”
“That will take more than you posses right now and much longer,” Maath responded.
“Fine. I’ll start with him.” Justin pointed out to the sea.
The fog was too thick, but an outline of a ship could be seen. It was following a different course than The Guardian Star and was only in view for a few moments before breaking off.
“It’s him and if I could follow him in this I would. But mark me, Maath, I will get him. Nothing will stop me.”
Maath shook his head. “We’ll see, Captain Justin. We will see.”
Justin placed the drawing of himself back on his desk. He kept it there, ever since she had given it too him over six months ago, because it reminded him of the way Dabria saw him. It was a good reminded of what he wanted as well, a name and reputation that was beyond all others. He frowned as he thought of The Dandy’s captain. That was exactly why it was so infuriating that there was a pirate who was hounding his ship. He had been able to identify the ship twice more since he had seen its outline in the fog, but he had never been close enough to catch him, though it was obvious the other captain was keeping an eye on him.
It made him furious that someone thought they could track the Black Panther and harass him. He was supposed to be the most feared pirate on the Ula Ocean. Who was stupid enough to aggravate him? Or at least, aggravate the original Black Panther? As far as he knew, no one was aware that he had taken over for Tommy. Who was this guy that had such a large grudge against the Black Panther?
It was his reputation that was at stake, his name. He had lived his whole life as a street rat, a nobody. Now, he had a name that struck fear and hatred through pirate’s hearts all over the Ula Ocean. He would not let a nameless pirate take his own reputation, not now or ever.
It infuriated him that he had to protect his name already when he was still trying to build it up. Oh, the Black Panther had a name, but Justin as the Black Panther did not. He had to protect and broaden that name. It was feared now, but when he was done with it, it would be so much more than legendary. That was his goal, the only thing he wanted and he would see it fulfilled.