22 Paying the Price

Josah shivered as the cold night’s breeze blew toward Rylie Glen. The moonlight flooded the deck of the Molly Red when it didn’t slip behind a cloud. He sat on the bottom step leading to the Captain’s quarters with his arms resting on his knees.

The boy felt relieved the immediate danger was over. The Evermores gathered with their crew one level down, in the galley, for the evening meal. Josah enjoyed the Captain’s mealtime stories most of the time. But tonight was different. The events that occurred earlier in the day consumed Josah’s thoughts. So he slipped out to the main deck.

Earlier that morning, Jeera sailed a skiff to Rona Island. It was a two-person vessel with a single mast, but the McKanzel lad was alone. The dinghy approached the pier with its discolored hull and patched canvas.

Jeera dropped his sail and let the skiff float next to the dock. Captain Munro stood in defiance, glaring at the boy. “You know why I’m here!” sneered Jeera.

The Captain didn’t waste time. “What are your terms?”

Jeera surveyed the length of the dock and saw Josah, the Evermores, and their crew watching from the shore. “Ask Josah to join us, and I’ll tell you the terms.”

Munro fought the desire to drag the boy out of the boat. Instead, he shouted Josah’s name and waved his hand.

It pleased Jeera to be in control. “Good to see you, Water Rat!”

“What do you want?” Josah huffed, clenching his fists.

“Easy,” Jeera chided. “Caleb is safe, for now.”

“Tell me your terms and be on your way!” the Captain shouted.

The McKanzel boy tied the vessel to the dock and hoisted himself onto the pier. Munro and Josah maintained their position, forcing the boy to squeeze between them. Jeera took a step closer to the shore before spinning around.

“We caught Caleb stealing from one of the warehouses. It was one of the food storages to be exact.”

Josah didn’t change his expression nor glanced at the Captain. No one discovered their raid on the weapons warehouse. “Did you catch Caleb with food in his possession or loading anything onto a ship?” asked Josah.

Jeera’s smile was more than Josah could take. He grabbed the boy by his linen shirt and pulled him close. Captain Munro shouted, “Let him go, Josah! Let him go!”

Releasing his grip, Josah retreated, keeping Jeera between the Captain and himself. “Let me remind you that my brothers are holding onto Caleb. Anything happens to me, and we’ll turn him over to Lord Vilo!”

The Captain softened his voice. “Jeera, once more. What are your terms?”

Adjusting his linen shirt while glaring at Josah, the McKanzel boy continued. “Caleb stole food. There’s an empty warehouse to prove it. I don’t know where he hid it, but Lord Vilo knows how to get that information.”

“And?” prompted the Captain.

“And, to keep Caleb out of Lord Vilo’s hands… “Jeera paused. He turned toward Josah, delighted with what he would say next. “You must leave Rona Island for good!”

Josah felt the anger welling up inside. “What nonsense are you talking about?”

Jeera turned to the Captain. “This is your choice, not Josah’s. If you want Caleb back, you must send your ships to sea with all your crew and family.”

Reaching for a rolled-up parchment tucked in his boot, Jeera handed it to the Captain. “Put your seal on this document. It says you agree to give Rona Island to the McKanzel family.”

Captain Munro looked toward the shore. “Yeva,” he shouted. “Bring me my signet and a lit red candle.”

Josah couldn’t believe what was happening. The McKanzel boy told the Captain he made the right decision. This moment was the best payback for all the ways Josah had beaten him in the past.

Yeva walked on the dock, then handed the ring and lit candle to Josah. “What’s happening?” she asked.

Josah looked away. “We have to leave the island if we want Caleb back.”

“He’s worth three islands,” she whispered. “Make sure the McKanzel boy won’t change his mind after he strikes an agreement.”

Yeva walked away as Josah handed the ring and candle to the Captain. “Jeera, I will agree to the terms, but I have a few of my own.”

“You have no leverage in this matter to make demands,” Jeera responded.

The Captain took two steps toward the McKanzel boy, making him move closer to Josah. “I have forty men at my disposal. Josah can strike you until you tell us where you are hiding Caleb. We’ll rescue him one way or another. How’s that for leverage?”

Jeera realized he hadn’t thought everything through. “No need to go any further, Captain. What are your demands?”

Munro glanced at Josah, signaling with his stare not to react. “I’ll put my seal on this document right now. But you won’t get it until you bring Caleb here. And the only crew allowed on your ship are your brothers.”

Jeera was uncomfortable. “I won’t bring Caleb to the island and have you take him by force.”

“Good for you. That’s the brightest thing I’ve heard you say,” responded the Captain. “I’ll meet you in open waters, and we’ll make the exchange.”

Thinking over his options, Jeera smirked. “You must sail one of your smallest ships and be alone.”

“Agreed,” said the Captain.

Jeera turned toward Josah. “And one more thing. Everyone and every ship must go by the time we make the exchange. If I see any of your vessels in the area, we’ll take Caleb to Lord Vilo!”

Captain Munro squatted and placed the parchment on the dock. Dripping the melted wax on the document, he pressed the signet. He grabbed it and showed it to Jeera.

“I agree to all the terms. I’ll hand the parchment to you when Caleb is aboard my ship.”

Jeera got what he wanted. “Agreed. And if you cross me, I will ram your ship before you reach the shores of Rona Island.”

“Then you best be going. I’ll wait for you in open waters, beyond the Strait, when the sun is over us. I’ll be in my smallest ship. From there, you will see the pier on Rona Island, empty.”

The McKanzel boy beamed. The Evermores would finally leave Liez and the island in their possession. “We have a lot to do in a short time,” said the Captain as he walked to the shore. “Josah, help Jeera into his ship.”

Jeera held his hands up, warning Josah. “Remember, we have Caleb.”

Swinging his fist into Jeera’s midsection, Josah drove the boy backward. Then, he threw him into the water. Jeera swam to his boat. He pulled himself aboard his skiff, pushed away, and hoisted his sail.

He taunted Josah, calling him ‘Water Rat’ as he sailed away. Walking toward the shore, Conall met Josah on the pier. “I’ve wanted to do that to Jeera for a long time.”

Any other tine, Josah would have laughed. They continued in silence, walking to Baile Sona’s courtyard, where everyone else gathered. The Captain held his hand up, demanding silence.

“If you didn’t hear what took place, let me tell you. The McKanzels have Caleb, and the only way to get him back is to leave Rona Island. Now, I know this has been home to everyone here, as it has been for us. But I agreed to the terms.”

A murmur of descent arose, with some suggesting other ideas. Captain Munro signaled for silence again. “There is more here than we have time to decipher. It may be that the McKanzels plan to tell Lord Vilo we stole his food. And if that happens, Rona Island will become a difficult place for us to live.”

“Munro, what are we going to do?” Yeva asked.

He put his arm around her, then looked at his crew. “We always take care of our family, and that includes you all. Rolan, I need you to sail the Griffin to Northport with your seven people. Those assigned to command any of the other ships, get your crews ready to sail.”

“Captain Munro,” someone shouted. “Where are we to go?”

“Away,” he responded. “The bigger ships, Talula and Emeline, must go to Mercil as they can accommodate you. The two Knarr ships, Haziel and Mistie, can sail to Rueland or Newgill. Once I know where the Molly Red will berth, I’ll get word to you.”

Another spoke up. “How about the Willowese?”

Brie was the first woman to take the helm of an Evermore ship. Young and ambitious, she was also smart and skilled. Captain Munro entrusted her with the fastest ship he owned.

“Stay with me, as I’ll have different instructions for you and your crew, as well as those of the Molly Red. The rest of you, please take what you need and get ready to sail. I’ll provide each of you with enough coins to last through the winter season.”

The crew of the Molly Red and the Willowese stayed with Captain Munro. Yeva whispered into his ear, squeezed his arm, then entered the house. All Munro could do was watch Yeva leave. He turned his attention back to the crew of the two remaining ships.

“Brie, anchor the Willowese on the west side of the island, then wait. The crew of the Molly Red will set black powder kegs in all the buildings and pier.”

“Father, what are you going to do?” asked Conall.

He looked at his son, with his jaw set. “We’re blowing everything up. The McKanzels can have the island, but nothing more. Brie, when Caleb is on board the Molly Red and you see us in the open waters, return to the island and ignite the kegs. Then sail to Mercil’s smaller port on the west side.”

Captain Munro dismissed the crew of the Willowese. He turned to those remaining. “I’m taking the skiff out to meet Jeera.”

Conall couldn’t understand what his father was thinking. “That boat hasn’t been in the water in a while. How can you escape if the McKanzels arrive in a Knarr or something more substantial? “

“I’m counting that they will,” said the Captain. “Jeera plans to ram whatever ship I’m commandeering. The skiff makes sure he does.”

He turned to Josah. “I need you to take command of the Molly Red, with Ruddie at the helm. Anchor northeast of the Strait. Wait until you see the McKanzel ship approaching me. I’ll distract them as long as I can.”

“Why me?” asked Josah.

The Captain smiled. “I’m counting on your recklessness. Assess the moment and decide how to beat Jeera and his brothers. That’s something you know how to do well.”

With those words, Captain Munro sent his crew on their way. He would spend the remaining hours with Yeva. He made sure the things she wanted to keep were safe aboard the Molly Red.

The Molly Red anchored beyond the Strait, off the northeast coast of Liez Bay. Conall stood at the poopdeck, looking through the Viewer at his father sitting in the small skiff. Clouds scattered across the eastern skies rolled toward Liez with a moderate breeze.

With the sun overhead, Conall looked for any ship sailing toward his father. Captain Munro’s small boat floated beyond the Strait, with its sail rolled down. Waves whipped by the wind caused the vessel to dip between them.

Josah couldn’t see into the channel, as the Molly Red needed to remain out of sight. But the wind blowing to the west gave him hope that their ship could catch the McKanzels by surprise.

Conall turned to Josah. “They’re late, as usual.”

Josah exhaled a few times, releasing some of the pressure he felt. “My plan has to work, or else.”

“This is going to work, Josah. Four crew stand at the ready, with a grappling hook at the end of a spear. We’ve tethered ropes at the other end to beams and quarter-rails. When the time comes, three others will climb to the crosstrees. They already secured their spear hooks to the mainmast. Then, the four ropes we’ll use to breach the McKanzel ship are ready. We tied them to the topsail yardarm.”

Josah began to doubt his plan. “What if the McKanzels sail with more people? Four of us breaching their ship may not be enough to rescue Caleb.”

“Look,” Conall said. “This isn’t a plan Father would have laid out. It’s reckless and unexpected, one that he wanted you to conjure up.”

Turning back to the Strait with his Viewer, Conall shouted. “It’s the McKanzels, and they sail their Knarr!”

“How many on board?” Josah asked.

Conall dropped the Viewer grinning. “Four.”

“Stay here and tell me what you see!” shouted Josah as he ran to the main deck.

Knarrs were flat and wide, used to carry heavy cargo in the bowels of the vessel. About sixteen meters in length, the ship deployed a single square-rig mast for power. It depended on a quarter-rudder system for navigation.

This type of rudder had two blades protruding from the sides of the stern, controlled by a tiller. They were slow but massive enough to inflict severe damage to any ship it rammed.

Josah adjusted the plan in his mind, as he ran towards the First Mate. “One McKanzel holds the tiller and another the boom. That means only one brother is watching Caleb.”

“Stand by your stations,” shouted Josah. “Raise the anchor! Drop the sails. Lower the cargo net on the port side for Captain Munro.”

He glanced at the First Mate. “Ruddie, get as close as you can to their stern.”

Josah’s plan was now in action. There was no turning back. The Molly Red started slowly, with the breeze behind her. The waves rolled away from the channel, giving the Molly Red extra thrust.

Conall ran to the quarter-banister, shouting, “They haven’t noticed us yet!”

Josah leaned over the starboard side. The McKanzel ship was now in sight. The wind and the sheer weight of the Molly Red allowed her to gain speed.

“Josah, they spotted us!” yelled Conall as he ran down to the main deck, strapping on his sword.

Ruddie had a clear vision of the McKanzel ship. “Get yourself ready. We’re seven meters away!”

“Steady,” cautioned Josah. “Were almost there!”

The Molly Red sped through the waves, ready to ram the McKanzel vessel. Josah grinned as he watched Manish release the tiller and run toward the bow.

“Now!” shouted Josah.

The last two crew in line threw their spears. One caught the tiller, while the other missed. Ruddie spun the helm to the right as the others cast their spears. Each one found its target.

The Molly Red dwarfed the Knarr. Water rolled in as the more massive ship listed on the starboard side. The three crew on the crosstrees threw their hooks, catching the square-rigged mast.

Ruddie straightened the ship, pulling the McKanzel vessel close. Josah, Conall, and two others swung on ropes and landed on the deck. Caleb, with hands tied in front of him, stood in front of Jeera. Delmar and Manish huddled in a corner.

Defiant to the end, Jeera pulled out a ship knife and held it to Caleb’s side. “You didn’t keep your word!” he screeched.

“We knew you wouldn’t keep yours!” Josah responded. “Let him go!”

Before Jeera could respond, Caleb lifted his boot and drove his heel into Jeera’s foot. He swung his head back, hitting the McKanzel boy’s nose. Dropping the knife, Jeera raised his hand, trying to stem the blood flowing down his face.

Caleb ran to his brothers, then held his hands out as a crew member cut his binds. “Get him on the Molly Red,” ordered Conall.

The young Evermore held tight to one of the ropes, allowing those on the Molly Red to pull him up to safety. Conall sighed with relief when he saw Caleb aboard the ship.

He saw Caleb point to Ruddie, then leaned over the quarter-rail. He swung the rope back out toward the McKanzel ship. The winds increased, driving the waves into the vessels, making it difficult to speak.

Cupping his hands around his mouth, he raised his voice. “Ruddie says he can’t hold the ship must longer!”

Going as planned, Josah saw Captain Munro towering on the starboard side of the Molly Red. He carried a rock with one of Yeva’s wraps securing the promised document. Lifting both hands above his head, he threw the stone into the McKanzel ship.

“Grab the ropes and get off their ship!” he commanded his crew.

The Captain ordered those on the Molly Red to cut the ropes holding the McKanzel ship, except for the last one. “Ruddie, swing hard portside!”

The rescuers on the McKanzel ship held on to the ropes. As the Molly Red veered sharply to its portside, it lifted them into the air. They planted their feet on the hull of the Molly Red, then climbed up its side. Then those aboard pulled the rescuers onto the deck.

The speed and weight of the Molly Red pulling away snap the tiller on the McKanzel’s ship. The remaining three hooks ripped through the topmast. Those on the Molly Red’s crosstrees pulled the ropes until the hooks plopped into the water.

The crew shouted their victory. Captain Munro walked over to Caleb. With his lip swollen, left eye puffed and bruised, he started to apologize. Munro smothered his words with a hug that squeeze the air out of his lungs.

“Ruddie, head for open waters. Let the Willowese catch up to us.” He turned to the boys. “Your Mother will be happy to have us all together!”

Josah looked back at the McKanzel’s ship. Though the hooks ripped the sail, it managed to hold the breeze and power the vessel. Navigating with a broken tiller would challenge Jeera, but not impossible. He wondered what the McKanzels were thinking.

Captain Munro watched as Conall yelled at Caleb for his foolish decision. He knew all was well when he punched the younger brother’s arm. With one hand grasping the edge of his jacket, the Captain walked over to Josah.

“Well done,” he said. “Reckless and daring. Everything I hoped you would do.”

“We protect our family, ” Josah responded.

“Yes, we do,” the Captain said with a grin. He hugged the boy until he gasped for air.

The Willowese came into view, navigating the ship close to the Molly Red. Lowering a longboat from the Molly Red, Brie helped Yeva step into it. The crew hoisted the vessel up with her on board. It was a happy reunion.

Josah walked over toward the helm. Even from the main deck, Ruddie could see Josah saluting, hand to his chest. The First Mate acknowledged with a slight bow and returned the gesture.

“Captain, the Molly Red is heading to Southport!” shouted Ruddie.

With favorable winds behind her, the ship would reach Southport by evening. Everyone on board paused when they heard the explosions in the distance. The crew of the Willowese made sure nothing on the island remained for the McKanzels.

Much to his discomfort, Yeva held on to Caleb.

Josah sat in the dark, listening to Ruddie sing the only song he knew. Some of the storm clouds disappated by evening, allowing the full moon and stars to peek between them. He kept looking for signs that the rainy season hadn’t begun.

The door on the quarter-deck opened, with someone carrying a candle. Josah couldn’t make out who it was until they got closer. It was Caleb. “Mother’s been keeping me close. I finally broke free.”

Josah laughed. “She may never leave you alone again.”

He made room for Caleb to sit down on the step. “I’ve told Conall several times that I was sorry. But all he does is punch me. If you’re going to do the same, can you hit my right arm?”

“Sure,” chuckled Josah.

“I am sorry, Josah. I thought it was a good idea to get the guards to follow me. Let’s not forget that you did get the crate onto the longboat.”

“Yes, but you didn’t think it through. You didn’t know where you were going or if you would run into someone,” Josah replied.

“I know that now. Running into the McKanzels wasn’t good, as it cost us our home,” admitted Caleb. “Father says he was ready to leave Rona Island anyway. But he’s saying that to make me feel better.”

“Well, he may be right,” Josah sighed. “This battle with Casselberry may force every city to choose sides.”

“With this delay, are we too late to get to Bon Abbi?” asked Caleb

Josah shrugged his shoulders. “Tomorrow, it will be five days since we left. Of course, we ‘re only guessing when we say Luka would come when the rainy season starts. He could be in Bon Abbi now.”

“Oh,” Caleb said in a soft tone.

Josah stood up. “But don’t you worry. Somehow, the struggle we face doesn’t feel to be ours alone. It’s like Providence wants us to win, so everything is aligning our way.”

“What do you mean?” asked Caleb.

“Think about it. We stood up to Luka twice. We carried out a raid to collect weapons, fought the McKanzels for your rescue, and now we’re on our way back to Bon Abbi.”

“You may be right,” expressed Caleb with renewed hope. He extended his hand to Josah. “Thanks for rescuing me.”

Josah grabbed it and pulled Caleb to his feet. Then he punched the young Evermore on his right arm. “That’s for telling me you’re sorry.”

Written by Mike Arroyo

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