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Excerpt for Jack's World by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



THE LAND OF BOYS

—————

VOLUME ONE OF JACK’S WORLD



by

Dan Hughes


Copyright © 2018 Dan Hughes

All rights reserved

No part of this book, whether it be the writing or images contained within, may be reproduced, stored in any type of retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including but not limited to electronic, photocopying, recording, mechanical or otherwise without the signed written permission of the author.

Published by Raven N. Moore Publishing

ISBN-13: 978-1-7323809-1-2

Distributed by Smashwords

Ebook formatting by www.ebooklaunch.com



Jack’s World The Land Of Boys is a work of fiction. The names, world, places, characters and events written herein are from the imagination of the author, Dan Hughes. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places, things or events are entirely coincidental.



For my beloved wife, Pamela.

Her love, support, and diligence keeps me happy, healthy, and focused.

For my Mom Lea, my Dad George, my family Jessica, Brian, Sara, Devin, Adelaide, Lily, Annika, Hazel, Lincoln, Joy, Pat, Shelley, Mike, Kelly, Tom, John, Mary, Sean, Scott, Marie, Shannon, Kimberly, Ryan, Paul, Michael, Jamie, Christina, Allison, Yann, Lea, Erin, Kerry, Elizabeth, Katie, Jill, Tiernan, Spencer, Ellery, Emma, Liam, Krystal, Blake, Brianna, Brandon, Griffin, Kiera, Aidan, Kalista, Reece, Kinley, Jack, Logan and Jayce - whose quirks and diverse personalities gave me the fodder I needed for the characters in this book.

For Jack


Contents

1. Abduction

2. Voyage of Tears

3. Land of Boys

4. Cuisine and Attire

5. The Woolly Races

6. Tutelage

7. Father & Daughter

8. Seed of Hope

9. Conspirators

10. Exodus to War

11. Encounter

12. A Map and a Quest

13. The Trials

14. The Winners

15. Spoils of Victory

16. The Masters

17. Tick-Tock

18. Discovered

19. Lifeline

20. Desperate Times

21. Water

22. Armor

23. Weapons

24. The Boat

25. The Beginning

About the Author

Acknowledgments



Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.

Red sail at dawn, the pirates have come


Chapter One

Abduction

The dragon masthead of the pirate warship sliced through the dense, early morning fog. It led the ship forward, in total silence, towards its final destination. The fog was growing thicker, making it difficult to see. There wasn’t even a sliver of the moon from the sky above shining through to give off any light for guidance.

Dawn was still two hours away, and that time had been the goal. Arrive unseen, before the dawn’s morning light might betray them — leave without a chance of being overtaken.

No creaking came from the ship’s timbers. No sound from the pirate crew who occupied her giant frame. The wind blew quietly against her sails, pushing her forward into the delta and main river of this island.

The crew was stationed around the ship and everyone stood motionless, except the captain. He was at the helm, maneuvering the huge wooden steering wheel. He detected nothing in front or behind him as he navigated the ship from the ocean into the island’s river delta. The pirates could barely see each other through the fog on the ship’s deck. The river measured two hundred feet across from bank to bank at the point it met the ocean. The current under the ship was moving her forward slowly, causing ripples to emanate to the shore on either side.

Captain Hammerjaw didn’t seem concerned with the fog as he entered the shallow waters in front of him. He had sailed up this river delta from the ocean many times in his life. With his experience to guide him, he had no worries he would reach his ultimate goal.

Somewhere, further up along the shoreline, there would be a lookout watching day and night to warn the villagers of any incoming pirate ships. The captain chose this particular night knowing that the fog would prevent anyone from seeing them before it was too late.

The first mate lowered and raised a rope with a weight at its end over the side of the ship and into the water. This was to measure the depth of the river bottom. Judging by the time since they started from the mouth of the river, the speed of the ship, and the depth of the water, the captain knew he was now close enough to move nearer to the shore and drop anchor.

“Raise sails, lower the anchor, and prepare to go ashore,” the captain whispered to the crewmen who stood nearby. They dispersed throughout the deck of the ship and signaled with their hands to the other crewmen that the time had come. The men who were already on the rigging pulled up the sails.

A group of ten of them lowered the anchor until it reached the bottom. With amazing quickness and little noise, they worked in unison to get everything prepared. They had done this many, many times before.

The ship came to a stop, and the crew quietly moved small boats over her sides and into the water. These would take the crew to shore and ferry back their prize, a culling of young boys and girls from the nearby village.

Nimbly, without saying a word, the pirate crew climbed down the cargo nets on the side of the ship into the small boats. Placing the oars into the water, they rowed to the shore. Once on land, they pulled the boats out of the water, up onto the beach, and secured them in place.

The village was only a short distance away but getting to it would be difficult for the pirates as the fog laid a blanket upon them too thick to move safely at any great speed. Thirty of them advanced towards their prey, the boys and girls of the village. The children would still be asleep in their homes at this hour, just before the early morning light of dawn would appear. Each pirate placed his hand on the shoulder of the pirate in front of him as they moved forward. This kept them all close together and avoided anyone being lost in the fog. The pirates were well-armed and well-trained to fight, a far greater match than the villagers would be able to stand up against.

They slowly made their way along a narrow path in the brush to the edge of the village. Thatched roof cottages began to appear in the distance as the fog was beginning to dissipate. The pirates had to strike before the morning light. The cover of darkness was an advantage they wanted to make the most of as the element of surprise was their greatest asset.

The sly and despicable group huddled behind tall bushes near the edge of the village. They would now wait until the fog lifted just enough for them to see more clearly where they were going. They did not have to wait long. Morning twilight was breaking through the dense fog. The village still slumbered in silence with no idea of the horror about to befall them.

The pirates then split up into groups of two and three men and spread out on the different paths running throughout the village. Each group moved into place just in front of a cottage. This village was built similar to villages on all the other islands. There were several cottages grouped together near the center, then spread out as you moved further away.

The first sound came from the pirate captain. Quietly, as if talking only to himself, he counted down in a slow and thoughtful cadence.

One … , Two … , Three … , Four … , Five.”

Immediately after saying Five the other pirates closest to him screamed out again and again at the top of their lungs as they ran through the village. This was the signal for his men to begin. Shock and terror were what the captain wanted to wake the villagers with.

Moving now with deliberate speed, the groups of pirates broke into the small huts and cottages, beating down anyone who stood in their way as they grabbed every young boy or girl who met the requirements.

The captain had reminded them often of those exact and specific requirements. Only take children between twelve and thirteen years of age, tall, fit, and no physical impairments such as a broken limb or feeble physique. Those who compensated for these cullings paid well for each able-bodied child captured by the pirates.

At the outer edge of the village, awakened by the noise and chaos, a young man ran from his home to the village center. An alarm bell had been put there specifically for this type of invasion.

Bong, bong, bong, the bell sounded as the young man pounded at it again and again. The bell rang loud and could be heard far away. Cottages on the very outskirts of the settlement would hear it long before the pirates would arrive at their location.

“The pirates are here! The pirates are here!” the young man cried out as he continued banging the bell. People ran from their homes and went off into the nearby woods to escape the would-be abductors and to save their children. The pirates used their clubs indiscriminately on those who stood against them.

They didn’t want to kill anyone. Villagers needed to continue having children to support future raids. They also didn’t want to take all the children. They wanted just enough to meet their quota. As the small groups of pirates got their prey, they started making their way back to the waiting boats.

On the edge of the village, there sat a thatched covered hut. Inside, the mother and father were waking their two children to run off into the forest with the others.

“Jack, move fast my son!” hollered his father as he burst into the small room where the boy slept.

“Jule, leave your things, we must run,” her mother urged as she picked up her young daughter and rushed to the door. The two children were terrified. The screaming, shouting, banging of the bell — they didn’t understand what was happening.

Their father reached to open the front door for them to leave, but he was too late. Just then, the door burst open and three of the pirates walked calmly inside, holding heavy wooden bludgeons in their hands. As they went for the children, the father ran at them and a pirate easily brushed him aside with one swipe of his club. The mother screamed frantically as she clung to her daughter, but to no avail as the pirate pulled the child from her arms and pushed her to the ground.

Jack tried running to the door, but a pirate grabbed him by his hair and tucked him under his arm. Jule squirmed under the arm of another as the pirates carried them out the door and took them to the waiting boats.

As they were being taken away, the two children could see fires burning throughout the village. People were either running off into the woods or fighting in vain with the pirates who had taken their children. Once Jack and Jule reached the boats, the pirates tossed them in where two other children already sat, cold and terrified, crying for their parents.

When all the pirates had returned to the boats, they looked at their haul. There were ten children, six boys and four girls. Their quota filled, they rowed their boats back to the large ship waiting just offshore.

The beach was deserted now, no hope of anyone coming to rescue them. Those who had put up a fight were overpowered into submission. The children now stood together on the deck of the ship. They all looked back towards their village where they saw the glow of their homes burning in the early morning light. They were petrified, terror-stricken at their new situation and wondering if they would ever be with their parents again. The parents knew better. Children taken by pirates were forever lost.

Captain Hammerjaw stood at the helm of his ship. He looked down below him on the deck where the latest haul of children huddled together, looking around at the ship and the pirate crew encircling them. For the captain, this scene had repeated itself over and over for as far back as he could remember. Back to the time when he had been a member of another pirate captain’s crew and spent many years in the practice of abducting children from helpless villages. The captain took a moment’s pause and thought back to the time when it all began, the beginning of the reign of pirates as undisputed rulers of the ocean.

Retrospect

A thousand years ago he reckoned since the great sea battle of Temenot. The large northern kingdoms of Bandellon and Taradoon had declared war against each other. There are no records of what started the war, but the ramifications were being felt to this day.

The captain knew, as did every pirate down through the ages since the war had ended, that a loose alliance of pirate captains and their fleets had long ago made the calculated move to influence the war and gain an equal footing with the three groups holding power in the world.

Until then, those three groups were composed of the Kingdom of Taradoon, the Kingdom of Bandellon and the Confederation of Island Nations located south of the two very large kingdoms.

The two kingdoms were both considered large because they inhabited the two biggest areas of land mass in the known world. They were connected by a narrow strip of terrain from one kingdom to the other, called the Warrior's Pass, which bridged the two kingdoms with the ocean on either side. In various places along that strip, it was only fifty feet in width, but a hundred feet high for its entire length of several miles. This made it impractical to march a large army over the strip between the two kingdoms.

There was no room to make a charge of horses or send thousands of troops without them being stopped by the opposing army in the narrow passage. This did not prevent each kingdom from placing troops in the pass and continually having skirmishes between them.

Both kingdoms tried often throughout the centuries to control the pass. They were never successful. The rival armies kept their men encamped facing each other, both comfortably out of the range of arrows which were constantly shot at them.

All the other island nations were much smaller in comparison. However, combined in a Confederation, the other island nations could exert their power and influence, and the two large kingdoms maintained good relations with the island Confederation to keep them from favoring one of the large kingdoms over the other.

What each of these three groups had which held the balance of power equally between them were their massive fleets of ships. These ships transported goods and people between the two kingdoms and the different islands. This was important because each kingdom and island by itself did not have all the goods and materials they required.

There were islands needing fruit and grain which other islands produced in abundance. Several had iron deposits, others large forests providing lumber. Livestock needed to be traded with herds on other islands to prevent inbreeding. There were many goods flowing throughout the ocean from island to island and to the two kingdoms.

This arrangement existed since the earliest recorded history of the world. All three groups lived in a peaceful harmony before the great war. The small exception came from a group of pirates attacking and plundering ships, regardless of what nation they were from.

There had been several attempts, all unsuccessful, to wipe out the pirates. No one knew where the pirate island was located. Where they lived and harbored their ships was a secret known only to them.

The pirates always worried that if anyone found out the location of their island, they would be wiped out and everything they had built along with their society would cease to exist. They lived in constant fear of this. So, when the great war came, an opportunity presented itself for a change.

One of the pirate leaders, Captain Bimby Redbeard, came up with the brilliant plan to raise the pirates from a group of hunted men and ships to the most powerful force in the world.

News reached Captain Bimby and the other pirates about the great war breaking out between the three factions. Everyone knew the most decisive battle would be taking place at sea. Whoever controlled the oceans would control the world.

Captain Bimby received word the great fleets of Taradoon, Bandellon and the Island Confederation were all sailing to the Sea of Temenot, located just south of the two large kingdoms. Taradoon committed their entire fleet to overtake the key island of Halfstar, so named because the northeastern side of the island looked like the top half of a star with three points of land jutting out into the ocean at equal distances.

Halfstar was the largest island close to both Taradoon and Bandellon. It was an ally of the Bandellon kingdom, supplying them with a lot of crops and raw materials. By taking control of Halfstar, Taradoon hoped to cut off those supplies to its rival.

As soon as the Taradoon fleet left port, spies sent out their messenger birds with notes to Bandellon and the Island Confederation telling them the entire Taradoon fleet was heading south towards Halfstar. Both Bandellon and the Confederation immediately sent all their own ships out to intercept the Taradoon fleet.

The Bandellon fleet reached Halfstar Island first and set up a defensive perimeter. The Taradoon fleet stopped their forward motion when they saw the Bandellon ships between them and Halfstar. Taradoon ships tried for two days to maneuver to a better position, but the Bandellon ships were equally matched to prevent them from gaining any advantage.

When the Confederation ships arrived a few days after the other two fleets had begun their standoff, they positioned themselves behind the Taradoon fleet, cutting off direct retreat to Taradoon. The Confederation hoped this would cause the Taradoon fleet to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the situation, but they were wrong.

When the captain of the Taradoon fleet noticed so many Confederation ships flanking his rear, he took immediate steps to neutralize the threat. He turned his ships around and attacked the Confederation fleet.

The captain of the Bandellon fleet saw the Taradoon ships turning. At first, he thought the sight of the Confederation fleet had made them think twice about invading Halfstar Island and that they were returning to their home. When he finally realized they were on course to attack the Confederation fleet, he gave the order for his ships to engage them.

The leaders of all three fleets didn’t know that far off in the distance, just out of sight of their spyglasses, the pirate fleet had taken position. They were biding their time and watching the other fleets. A small pirate vessel had been sent ahead to observe the situation but stay out of sight. They had a crate of messenger birds to communicate back to the pirate fleet of events developing between the other fleets.

Captain Bimby stood at the helm of his pirate flagship reading the latest message delivered by bird. All three of the fleets at Halfstar Island were now engaged in battle, inflicting heavy damage. This is exactly what he expected and hoped would happen. All he had to do now was sit back and wait.

After two days of fierce fighting, over two-thirds of the Taradoon, Bandellon, and Confederation fleets were crippled or destroyed. The fighting had gone on non-stop. The smoke from the flames of ships burning in the ocean waters could be seen for hundreds of miles. Over the battle area, the smoke darkened the skies and blocked out the sun during the day and the stars at night, making it difficult for anyone to know where they were or what direction they were heading. That is to say, everyone but Captain Bimby.

Biding his time, and getting constant updates from his forward spy ship, Captain Bimby timed his entrance into the battle with the other three fleets to his maximum benefit. He did not want to engage while there was still a large enough force which could cause a lot of damage to his own pirate fleet. He also didn’t want to wait too long as many of the surviving ships would leave the battle and return to their home ports for the protection they offered.

He planned to enter the fray at the point when the other three fleets had exhausted their arrows and spears and their troops would be tired from the continuous battle. The latest message he received told him it was time.

Captain Bimby looked up at the crewman stationed in the crow’s nest at the top of the largest mast. He took a red handkerchief from his pocket and waved it upward, the signal the crewman had been waiting for. He grabbed two large red flags in the crow’s nest and waved them over his head to signal the other pirate ships that the time for action had arrived.

Throughout the pirate fleet, an excitement now grew as the crewmen on every ship saw the red flags being waved from the crow’s nest of every ship as they passed along the pre-arranged signal to begin their attack. From ship to ship you could hear men shouting Weigh anchor and hoist the mizzen as the ship’s sails were unfurled and the wind filled each one, pushing them forward.

The sail at the top of the mast in front of each ship displayed a blood red color. All the other sails were white. This was done to strike fear in the eyes of those who saw the ships coming, letting them know the blood-thirsty pirates were on their way to get them.

Back at the battle between the three fleets, there were few ships left that were not damaged. The fighting was still going on when the sound of horns came from what was left of all three fleets. This was the universal warning call that the pirates were coming. All at once, the fighting amongst the three fleets stopped. Everyone on every ship looked out on the distant horizon and saw the red topsails of three hundred pirate ships descending upon them.

In disarray and confusion, the ships of the three fleets, still able to maneuver, turned to face their common enemy. Now the battle of the three fleets had concluded, the battle for their very survival and existence had begun.

Captain Bimby and the pirate fleet had a simple strategy — anything floating, burn it and sink it. The pirates unleashed flaming arrows which filled the sky and landed on every ship before them. They swept through what remained of the three fleets, making sure each ship would burn until it sank. No quarter or mercy was given to the troops.

The head of the Confederation fleet, Captain Nor, came from a group of islands called the Outer Rim Islands. From his helm, he looked out at what little remained of his ships. Those that weren’t sunk were burning and they would soon be heading to the bottom of the ocean.

The only choice he figured he had now was to try to sail to one of the main islands of the Confederation and warn them of what happened at the battle that day. By themselves, no single island could hold back an invasion by the pirates.

Only the two large kingdoms of Taradoon and Bandellon had the armies on land capable of withstanding such an attack. He turned his ship to leave the fight, but he would not escape. Three pirate ships coming from different directions were merging on his position. Before they reached his ship, he managed to send a messenger bird off to warn the Confederation of what had transpired in that battle. He knew the Confederation islands would be an easy target now that the fleet was no more.

Finally realizing there was no hope of defeating the pirates, several ships from each fleet turned to escape. They were all overtaken and destroyed, except for one. A smaller ship from the Confederation fleet, built for speed, evaded the oncoming pirate ships and made it back out to the open ocean. The name of the ship was The Runner, so named because of the speed she traveled over the water.

As the crewmen of The Runner looked back, once they had reached a safe distance, they saw debris and masts of ships barely above water as they sank into the depths. They could hear the cries of men struggling to stay afloat in the water, begging for help, yet receiving none.

The captain of The Runner was Nicoby Rose, an elderly man who spent almost his entire life at sea. He knew the islands and ocean currents better than any other person alive. He sailed his ship out of reach of the pirate armada and safely back out into the open ocean, followed by a dozen pirate ships that tried to catch him but were never able. The Runner was never seen again.

Back at the center of the Sea of Temenot, the pirate fleet destroyed what remained of the other three fleets. The wreckage was strewn everywhere in the water. A great victory achieved by a group of pirates that, until this battle, had been hunted at will by the other three. Sadly, that would never happen again. The pirates now ruled the oceans.

With the fighting over, Captain Bimby invited many of the pirate leaders, who had joined him in battle, on his ship to celebrate their victory and plan their future. They created what would be called the Pirate Charter of Laws that would forever guide them and protect them from being hunted by others ever again.

There were several items in the Charter. Most of which, of course, were very important to the pirates’ preservation. Chief among these was that no kingdom or confederation would ever again be allowed to build a fleet of ships other than small fishing boats. This Charter did not stop others from trying, but regular patrols of each island nation by the pirates would let them know if anyone was attempting any shipbuilding, and the pirate patrols would quickly move in and destroy whatever had been built.

The pirates now controlled all movement of goods, livestock, and people between the islands. As this transportation was sorely needed, a fee had to be paid to the pirates to provide it. Sometimes payment was made in barrels of food and wine, sometimes in gold, silver, or other raw minerals.

With their fleets gone, the kingdoms of Taradoon and Bandellon began fighting against each other exclusively on land. The narrow strip of land which connected the two kingdoms became the focus of each one trying to control it. They would be at a stalemate for hundreds of years, each army trying, again and again, to advance over the Warrior's Pass and always falling back in failure.

This brought another urgent need to the two kingdoms — Men were killed in these battles, far more than could be replaced by the local population. The pirates were paid by each kingdom to abduct children from the island nations where they were brought to the training camps of each kingdom, set up on separate islands themselves.

For hundreds of years, Captain Hammerjaw and those who preceded him made a routine culling of islands to abduct children old enough to train for combat. The age of thirteen seemed to be where most children were best suited to start this training.

A few years of rigorous drilling and instruction in the practice and use of weapons and tactics were given to each boy. Girls were taken to train for cooking, cleaning, repairing clothing, caring for domesticated livestock and given to loyal soldiers as wives. Boy or girl, it was an oppressive and dismal life to endure.




When Childhood walks out the door,

Innocence is a step behind


Chapter Two

Voyage of Tears

Once on board the ship, the pirates separated the children into groups of boys and girls. Jack glanced around and couldn’t believe a boat this big could float on the water. He looked at the sails and noticed the topsail on the first mast was red. Red was not a color ever used for clothing or decorations in Jack’s village or anywhere else he knew. A red sail signified the pirates and the terror they brought, raiding every village on every island and stealing away the children.

“Come,” ordered a pirate, as he motioned to his new prisoners to follow him down creaking wooden steps into the depths below of the large ship. They descended through two decks until they came to the lowest hold where there were two barred and locked compartments already occupied with dozens of other children. Girls on one side, boys on the other.

Straw filled the bottom of the cages. Stink permeated the air, foul and dank, matching the smell of the crew Jack thought. Only a small amount of light came through the door hatch from the upper decks, making it difficult to see.

The young prisoners could barely make out the images of others moving around the bowels of the ship where they had been taken. Jack called out to his younger sister as they ushered him into the caged room. She cried back his name but couldn’t make him out through the darkness and the bodies surrounding her.

“Quiet,” yelled a burly giant of a man walking down the stairs and into the hold with a torch in one hand and a whip in the other. The deep and powerful booming of his voice shocked them into silence.

“I am Sir. You will call me Sir when you talk, and you don’t talk unless I say so. Stop the noise and crying or you’ll be whipped with the lash,” he told them chuckling to himself at their plight.

“You now belong to King Robu and the Kingdom of Bandellon,” Sir growled, pounding a fist on the emblem worn on his tunic. The emblem was composed of three gold triangles whose pointed ends came together to rest on the top of a fourth gold triangle. These four triangles covered a dark green circle.

“You will do as you are told. Do well, you eat and you live. Don’t, and I will chop you into little pieces to be bait for the fish,” he laughed as he turned the key on the cage door to lock it. He gave them a final glance and walked back up the stairs and out of sight. The door on the deck above them slammed shut. They stood in total darkness until their eyes adjusted and they could finally, just barely, make each other out.

Jack looked around at his fellow young captives. There were many of them crying from fear and the rough handling they had received from their captors. Bloody noses evident everywhere. There were more boys than girls in the caged rooms. Jack counted thirty-three boys and twenty girls. When Sir had walked in with the torch, he recognized the ones taken with him from his village. Others looked familiar from trips his father had taken him on when visiting the other towns and villages to trade and buy goods.

The ship began to move violently up and down as it left the river mouth and then settled back into the wide expanse of the ocean. Straight ahead of them was nothing but water and the horizon. Deep blue water, with white puffy clouds in the distance as the morning sun was getting higher in the sky and the day grew warmer with it. After a few hours, Sir had come back down to the hold of the ship and looked at his captives.

“Take out twenty of them and bring them topside,” he grunted menacingly. The guards counted out ten boys and ten girls and brought them to the deck of the ship and lined them in four rows of five each. They stood there trembling as the captain of the ship strode towards them. Captain Hammerjaw looked at his prize captives with greedy admiration.

“A fine lot we took this trip,” he said to Sir. “Now you are mine,” he bellowed to the gathered children as he smiled a wide and sinister grin. “You will work on this ship and keep her clean. You will fish for food, prepare and serve meals to the crew. Clean and mend clothes. Do whatever is asked of you or you will be cut and torn into pieces,” he yelled at them with a chuckle in his voice. Yes, the captain was pleased. At ten gold pieces for each child he brought in for the armies of the north, this would be a successful haul.

Each line of five children was sent to the four different sections of the ship — front, back, and each side. They gave them buckets and large brushes with long stiff bristles in them. They were forced to clean the deck and the railing while being watched over by members of the crew who constantly barked loudly and maliciously at them.

For hours, the children worked scrubbing the deck, cleaning the railings and masts. When the captain decided the work was finished, he had them taken back down into the hold and put back into their cages.

Sir came down into the hold with other pirates carrying barrels of food and water. As much as he disliked the children, Sir knew he was responsible to keep them alive until they reached their destination. He had bread and fruit distributed to each child. The pirates gave them water in a single cup, filled and passed from one captive to another. After they ate the food and had their drink, the crew took the empty barrels back up the stairs along with the lanterns which provided the only visible light.

Now sitting in the dark, Jack called out quietly to his sister. She had been one of the twenty taken topside earlier in the day to work.

“Jule, are you there, are you okay?” he asked in the darkness. From far across the room came a muffled noise, the shuffling of feet, which grew louder as it came toward him.

“Jack? Jack, I’m here,” she replied, now directly across from him in her cage.

“Jack, my hands, they are so sore and blistered. They made us scrub and clean all day on the deck,” she cried as she spoke. “What is happening? Why did they take us? I want to go home,” she sobbed.

“Calm down, Jule,” he whispered and tried to sound reassuring to her. “These are the pirates Papa always warned us might someday come and take us. They take children from their homes and sell them to the armies which fight in the north. We need to stay strong and stay silent. We need to be smart and wait for an opportunity to get away. Try to get some sleep now. You’ll need your strength.”

The two of them, along with most of the other children, drifted off into a light and uncomfortable sleep. There were still some of them who couldn’t even close their eyes, still dazed and confused as to what had happened. They huddled together in small groups to keep warm which gave them a sense of false protection.

Over the next two weeks, the crew would come down each day and take out twenty of their captives and have them work the entire day topside.

Despite the hard labor, they kept them well-fed and watched over. Because the pirates knew each child was worth ten pieces of gold, that was the only reason they cared for them at all. If any child was harmed or injured and made worthless to their eventual buyers, Captain Hammerjaw would take it out of the pirates’ hides.

The pirates were usually quiet and kept to themselves, except when they were shouting or cursing at the kids when they were working topside. There was plenty of work for the pirate crew as well — raising and lowering sails, moving rigging up and down the rope ladders everywhere about the ship.

A few members of the crew stood at the back of the ship with fishing lines going out into the water. Others were responsible for preparing the meals. No one stood idly around with nothing to do. They were all serious about everything they did.

They especially enjoyed singing, and they did this often to help pass the time. There were many songs that the pirates sang. Some were about bravery, others about sailing on the open ocean. There were some that had words the boys and girls had never heard before. Jack was thinking there was one song they liked to sing more often than the others as he heard them start up again.

The sea is blue

and the sky is too

as we leave the land

and do what we do

Ho ha ho

Sail boys true

Raise your cup

and drink your brew

We’re men of the sea

And the open sky

and we’ll stay that way

til the day we die

Ho ha ho

Sail boys true

Raise your cup

And drink your brew

It’s the life for me

on the open sea

as I chart my way

through the ocean spray

Ho ha ho

Sail boys true

Raise your cup

and drink your brew”

On and on they sang and sang, day after day — not at all in tune, but that scarcely mattered to them.

As the days passed by, the children came to know each other better. They learned their names, what island they came from, and who their parents and siblings were. There was nothing for them to do together except when they were topside where they would be cleaning the ship, mending clothes or serving food to the crew. So, when they were in their cages the children played word games. Each island had its own word game, so it helped pass the time trying to learn and play each other’s game.

One day, while on deck cleaning, Jack was ordered to go to the captain’s quarters. Off he went with rags, a brush, and a bucket in hand. He knocked on the captain’s door.

“Come in,” a sly and sinister voice said from the other side.

As Jack entered the captain’s quarters he was amazed at all the beautiful items adorning the room. Colorful banners, swords, spears, and a large wooden desk carved in the shape of a dragon just like the masthead on the front of the ship. Jack stood there transfixed in awe when the captain spoke to him.

“So, young man, what is your name?” the captain inquired in a more pleasant-sounding voice.

“My name is Jack. What is yours?” Jack quipped back at him.

The captain was surprised by Jack’s question. He was not used to children talking to him even when he asked them questions, they were usually too afraid to make any response. This amused the captain, so he responded, curious where the young boy would go with the conversation.

“I am Captain Hammerjaw. You may call me captain. Now, which island were you taken from? Do you know the name of it?” he asked Jack.

“Of course, captain. My island is Barros Island. It is a beautiful island and I will be back there someday to make sure no pirate ever takes another child,” he told the captain with a hint a defiance in his voice.

The captain chuckled at the unexpected display of bravery from the young boy. He momentarily toyed with the idea of keeping Jack on his ship and training him to be a part of the crew. But the fact the boy stood up to him, made him think it was better not to have any stubborn personalities on board to give anyone else unwanted ideas.

“Take your rags and bucket and clean the floor in here. I want that wood to shine. When you’ve finished the floor, clean the glass windows there in the back. I will be out on deck with the crew while you are cleaning. You are to be done by the time I get back!” the captain ordered. He strode past Jack and out the door, but then glanced back at Jack and added, “Touch nothing in here, just clean!” And with that, the captain shut the door and joined the crew out on the deck.

Jack got down on his knees and dipped the brush in the bucket and scrubbed the floor of the captain’s quarters. It was hard not to keep looking around at all the marvelous things in the room. When he finished with the floor, he went to the glass window at the back wall. He saw the ocean through the glass. He saw only water, no land anywhere in sight.

Once the glass windows and floor were cleaned, Jack picked up his bucket and walked to the door to leave. As he went by the captain’s desk he saw a large map spread out over it. He had seen maps before, but never one this big or with so much detail on it.

Several islands on the map had a red X on them. There were other circular marks and figures he didn’t understand. He would not get the chance to investigate further as the sound of footsteps echoed outside the room indicating that someone was approaching the door.

The captain walked back into his quarters and looked around the room. Jack had walked to the door the moment he had heard the footsteps, so nothing looked peculiar or out of place to the captain.

“Looks like you’re done. Back down to the cage for you, Jack. Don’t get your hopes up about getting back to your island home anytime soon. In fact, you will probably never see it again. Fear not, though, we have other plans for your future.” He laughed as he took Jack by the neck and escorted him out the door.

Just over three weeks had passed since they left his island home. Jack was sitting down in his cage on this particular day with the other boys when they heard shouting from the crew up top.

“Land to starboard, land to starboard!” they yelled out. The sound of feet shuffling and running back and forth on the upper deck resounding throughout the ship. The captive children knew something was happening. What it could be they were not sure of. After a couple of hours, they could sense the ship slowing down and eventually come to a sudden stop as the anchor had been released and hit the ocean floor. Sir came down the steps and stood before the captive children.

“We are at your journey’s end, at least with us you are,” he exclaimed in a loud and satisfied sounding voice. The huge grin on his face showed several dark and festered holes where his teeth used to be.

“Today you go back to land, to your new journey, to your glorious futures,” he howled as he moved his gaze over them.

One of the crew walked over to the boy’s cage, unlocked the door and ushered the boys out to the top deck. They lined them up and then placed them in the small boats and lowered them over the side of the ship. There were several boys to a boat and two crewmen to row it to shore.

As they approached the sandy beach, Jack saw a small group of men from the island walking towards them. Their faces looked more menacing than the pirates if that was possible. The group stopped on the sandy beach, watched and waited for the boats to arrive on shore with their bounty. They dressed differently than their pirate counterparts. Their clothes glittered in the sunlight. It wasn’t until they got closer that Jack noticed they were wearing gold-colored armor.

Once all the boys had been taken to shore, Jack looked at the boats going back to the ship. The boys were ordered to stand still. Off in the distance, Jack watched the small boats being raised back into the ship. The anchor was raised and the sails lowered. At that moment, he and several of the other boys realized the girls wouldn’t be joining them. Jack and a few of the other boys called out the names of the girls who were left back on the ship, only to have a whip come down on them.

“Silence!” the tall, lanky man in golden armor on his chest and thighs yelled at them. “No one talks. No one!” he shouted firmly.

The boys looked out at the ship as it headed back out into the ocean. Jack felt an aching pain inside him. The sorrowful pain grew deeper from the sad realization that he may never see his sister or his parents ever again.



The steel is soft and weak

til tempered with scorching fire


Chapter Three

Land of Boys

The boys were lined up in single file on the beach. There were thirty-three of them of varying shapes and sizes, but it was obvious that they were all still children. Their ages ranged from eleven to thirteen. As they stood there not uttering a word, a man in golden armor walked down each line, eyeing them closely and with calculated precision.

“All of you are now the servants of King Robu,” he announced to them with confidence and authority in his voice. “Today is the first day of your manhood. This is the day you stop playing and acting like children. This is the day you begin your training to become men, to become knights. Today you trade your toys for weapons, your clothes for armor, your family for your king. I am Lord Master Subus, and you will call me Lord Master whenever I speak to you,” he told them as he strode up and down the line of boys, reviewing them like a butcher looking at a group of chickens trying to decide which one to have for supper.

“We will go to your new home now. You will be staying with us and learn how to fight, how to defend, how to defeat your enemy, how to be a man, and more importantly how to be a knight. Now, MARCH!” he ordered them, as the sound of a whip came cracking down over their heads.

At the front of the line, leading the boys, was a huge man, more than a head taller than the tallest of the boys. He could be seen from all the way back at the end of the line as the spear he held in his hand measured two feet taller than him. There were knights on each side of the line keeping them moving at a steady pace.

On and on they marched, off the beach and on to a dirt path. This went alongside a wide river, which wound around from the beach into the surrounding forest. Midday was approaching, as the sun shone overhead and was only occasionally seen through the branches of the trees which lined the path on both sides of them.

The group proceeded for what seemed like an eternity. It became obvious many of the boys were not in very good shape and were having difficulty keeping up with the pace of the knights who marched beside them.

Each of the knights wore a breastplate covering his torso, with steel plates on his arms and legs. They carried a long spear with a long blade at the end of it. The blade was serrated on both sides and attached to a black shaft. Jack looked at it and didn’t recall ever seeing anything as dark as the shaft of the spear or as white as the blade on the end of it. For that matter, he had not seen any of these things ever before. Knights, armor, spears, swords, these were things he only heard about in the tales his father would tell him and his sister.

His legs were now getting tired and sore. His stomach felt the pang of emptiness. He wondered how much longer he could walk when suddenly they came out of the forest.

Before them, across a small, flat valley, stood the very tall stone walls of a fortress. In front of the fortress, Jack saw groups of boys dressed up in armor similar to what their guards were wearing.

“Halt here for a moment. Let them have a rest break and they can watch the drills they will soon be doing themselves,” Lord Master shouted out.

The marching stopped, and the boys were told to take a break and look at the groups out in the open field. There were several made up of about fifty boys each. One group marched in a formation which looked like a moving box with five lines of ten boys. Another group looked like the top of one of the spears that the guards held. There was one boy in front, followed by two in the next row, and three in the row after, and each row after had one more boy in it continuing on to the last row.

All the boys on the field were carrying spears in their hands. The steel at the end of their spears was not the same bright white color of the steel on the spears of the guards. It was more of a dull gray color. The boys also wore helmets and armor, not as much as the guards had on their bodies, but enough to cover most of their arms, legs, and torso.

Two or three guards marched with each group and Jack heard them shouting orders at the boys. Jack and his fellow captives rested there for a good half hour watching the other boys on the field marching around in different formations.

“Time to move,” Lord Master finally announced.

“Back in single file,” one of the guards ordered the boys and everyone continued marching forward towards the fortress.

As the line of boys approached the fortress, the front gate lowered to greet them, and they noticed a moat surrounding the structure. There was no water in the moat, however. The walls looked old and weathered as if it had been there for centuries.

It seemed out of place located so far inland on the island. The forest seemed to be closing in on it and Jack saw where trees were cut down to keep the tree line back.

On the top of the walls, there were knights marching back and forth with a determination as if they were expecting something to come other than this line of boys. Jack gazed up at the sky. The sun would soon be setting with twilight coming towards them from over the horizon. On they all marched over the lowered drawbridge and into the fortress.

As Jack entered, he looked out at a large courtyard between the main building and the tall stone walls. There were three smaller buildings inside the courtyard, with a guard standing next to each one.

When Jack and the other boys were marched into the main building, he could see hallways going off in different directions. The fortress seemed huge when he first saw it from a distance but appeared even larger now that he was inside. Large stone columns lined the length of the front of the building as they entered, but Jack saw nothing else down the hallways inside as they turned in different directions, out of his sight.

While they marched down the main hallway, there were a number of boys moving in all directions. A few of them were carrying plates of food, others were carrying what looked like piles of clothing. Their faces were blank, no emotion or hint of anything going on in their minds. Jack wondered how long it would take before he also wore the same blank expressionless look.

Once all the boys made it into the fortress and down the main hallway, the large knight at the front of the line leading them abruptly stopped, turned, and looked back to the end of the line and held up his hand, a wordless command for them to stop. Lord Master walked to the center of the line.

“Turn and look at me,” he commanded, and the boys all turned and faced him. “Now you will separate into groups and be taken to eat and then to your beds. Eat well, your first meal will be an example of what you will eat every day. You will need the strength that this meal will provide you. Tomorrow you will rise with the sun and begin your training. Anyone caught outside their rooms at night will be executed at once and without question. Their body will be left in the forest for the animals to pick their bones clean,” he smiled at them as he turned and walked off into the fortress followed by a few of the guards.

The remaining knights separated the boys into groups of five and marched them off to a large room where benches and tables had been set up. Cups of water and plates of meats and fruits sat on each of the waiting tables. Many of the boys ran to the tables and ate and drank, starving from the long day of exertion they had been through. Others made their way slowly into the room, gazing cautiously around at the empty, windowless walls.

For all the horrors they had suffered so far, they were amazed to see so much food placed on the tables for them to eat. Many of the boys felt this was the greatest feast they had ever had in their lives. Most had come from poorer islands with not much food to go around. To see such an abundant meal took their minds off of everything else going on around them, for the moment at least.

Jack took a seat at one of the tables and looked around at the rest of the boys. He watched as a few rubbed their sore legs and feet, while others ate their fill of the food before them.

After eating, a quiet despair descended upon all of them. There was no talking between any of the boys, just the silence of the anticipated fate. After several minutes had passed, a guard walked into the room.

“Follow me,” he told them and then turned around and walked out of the room. “MOVE IT!” he shouted back at them as he continued walking forward. The boys jumped up from where they were sitting and followed the guard. They made their way down a long hallway and into a large room.

At one end of the room sat a very large barrel on a ten foot high platform. Jack had seen this type of barrel before. It was behind a building in one of the larger villages his father had taken him to. He had told Jack that men would go there to drink the ale and rum. This particular barrel appeared ten times that size and Jack soon found out what it was for.

“Take off all of your clothes,” bellowed another large man as he entered the room behind them. He was relieving the guard who had originally brought them here. This man didn’t dress in the knight’s uniform like the others. He had a white tunic on and large black boots. A strange looking hat sat haphazardly on his head.

None of the boys were taking their clothes off as he had ordered, so he picked up one of them by the scruff of his neck and tore the clothes off his body and then threw them to the ground. That was all it took for the remaining boys to immediately take off their clothes and throw them on the ground in a large pile as originally instructed.

“Come!” the man shouted into the air above him. Four boys dressed in tunics just like the one the man wore walked into the room. They picked up the pile of clothes and took it out of the room. “This will make a lovely fire tonight,” the man with the funny hat said, eyeing the clothes as they were being carried out.

When all the boys had stripped off their clothes and stood naked in the room, the man pointed over to a wall in the room where faucet-like fixtures were lined up in a row, going down one side of the wall and back up the other.

“I am Master White. You will do as I say without questions, comments, or complaints. Each of you will line up under one of those spigots,” he instructed them as he pointed at the faucet-like fixtures. “NOW!” he yelled.


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