Pirate Oliver stood at the helm of the Rapscallion, wind ruffling through his fine brown hair and fake beard. Standing on a barrel beside him, squat, pink, and wearing an eyepatch, was his talking pig Fortingras.
“We’re gaining,” said Oliver, smacking the helm with satisfaction. Waves clipped along the hull of the Rapscallion, leaving a frothing wake in the green waters of Hamfast Sea. Before them, dark and sleek, ran an Imatrian Yokker. “She’s riding low. Stuffed full of gold, I’ll bet. We could buy an island, a fleet of ships, 10000 pineapples!”
Fortingras narrowed his eye and snorted. “Gold! Cannon more likely. They’ll blast us to bits if we come abreast.”
“Then we won’t,” said Oliver, adjusting his course. “We’ll take their mast with the tarkoon. That way we won’t lose their cargo.”
“Pah.” Fortingras stamped his foot. “You’re not that good a shot, and neither are any of the monkeys.”
Oliver grimaced and glanced upwards, where a couple of spider monkeys scampered among the rigging. He pulled his fake beard away from his chin, for a bit of air, then let it snap back into place. High on the mast, the skull and crossbones snapped in the blue sky. The sound comforted him. Oliver curled his fingers around the helm, closed his eyes, and whiffed salt air into his nostrils.
His eyes popped back open and his spine snapped straight. “Smell that?” he cried.
Fortingras snuffled the breeze and bared his teeth. “Lightning.”
One of the monkeys screeched a warning, and Oliver spun on his heels. A mass of black clouds roiled towards their stern, crackling with energy. “Flank speed!” Oliver screamed. “Take the helm, Fortingras.”
The pig used his front hooves and teeth to clasp the helm. Just as he did so, a blast of air overtook them. It caught the sails with a snapping shriek. The Rapscallion lunged forward.
Oliver yelled and sprinted towards the bow. He grasped the heavy barrel of the cannon and swung it into forward position. It had already been loaded with powder and an exploding tarkoon. Oliver rocked on his feet as another blast of air shook them. He heard a thud as one of the monkeys careened to the deck.
Rain fought through the sails, splatting on Oliver’s neck. Dashing it from his eyes, he clasped the wheel of the cannon and cranked it, peering through the sight as he raised the barrel.
Figures in black clothes rushed to and fro on the Imatrian ship’s deck. At the stern, a boy stood motionless. He wore a silver vambrace and held his arms raised. Perched atop his right fist, beak opened as though calling at the sky, sat a Xungarian Cuckoo.
The boy was a fulminator. It was he who’d yanked the lightning up their stern.
“I thought so.” Oliver ground his teeth. “But you won’t take my ship with lightning! I’ll use it against you, see if I don’t!”
The Rapscallion plunged into wave troughs, then summited the rising seas. Oliver wiped his forehead with his fake beard and adjusted his aim. The Imatrian ship rose and fell in the viewfinder. Oliver’s gut clenched. This could be the end of him, Fortingras, the monkeys, and the Rapscallion. Death by cremation. If he ordered Fortingras to turn them about, would the fulminator call off the storm? Unlikely. Besides, there was nowhere to go to escape it. It billowed and roiled all around them. He, Pirate Captain Oliver, scourge of Hamfast Sea, was in for it.
Fortingras gave a screaming bark. The hair on Oliver’s arms and head stood straight up as the air filled with electric charge. The cannon began to buzz. He cocked the firing pit. “Ready,” he whispered, then held his breath. His fingers seemed to move with aching slowness as he grasped the firing trigger and pulled it. The cannon fired, the tarkoon burst from the barrel. It seemed to hang mid-air, not moving, as an arc of searing light shot past the Rapscallion and enveloped it.
Oliver yelled and clamped his eyes shut. The deck heaved beneath him. For a moment he lost all sensation. He felt as though he were floating. Something pulsed over his skin and a horrific crash deafened him.
He woke to the sun shining in a blue sky, water lapping against his back. He gasped and sat up. He lay in a curved bit of hull. Had the Rapscallion been blown to bits? No, there she was, just in front of him. She dipped in the water, sails furled, tugging the leash of her anchor. At the railing stood Fortingras and the two monkeys, staring down at him with wide eyes. Oliver choked in relief. He couldn’t tear his eyes off the pink pig with his eyepatch, so gruff and sturdy.
“What happened?” Oliver asked.
Fortingras coughed and shook himself. “The lightning followed the tarkoon, cracked their hull into smithereens.”
“Really?” Oliver sobered. “I’m glad we’re alive, but what a shame we lost the cargo.”
“Pah,” said Fortingras, narrowing his eye and stamping his foot. “Look around.”
Oliver did. Floating in every direction were pieces of hull, bits of debris, and at least 100 crates stamped with the Imatrian trade seal. Sailors clung here and there among the wreckage, eyes wide, some with soot-blackened faces. One of them wore a silver vambrace. He sat balanced on top of a barrel with a Xungarian Cuckoo perched on his head.
“You,” said Oliver.
The boy gave him a sheepish grin and waved.
Oliver swiped his face with his fake beard. This day got stranger and stranger. “Fortingras,” he said, “send the monkeys to collect the prisoners and cargo. And let down the rope ladder, I’m coming aboard.”
As he swam, a crate bumped into him. Oliver reached through the cracked lid and pulled out the first of the plunder. He grinned and held it aloft.
“Gold!” Fortingras snorted, “More like 100 crates of pineapples.”