Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2020 finalist, Rahul Sundaresan! Rahul finished 6th grade this past school year. The story he submitted is called “Conquest of the Swordsailor.” Our judges liked Rahul’s fun and clever ending.
Listen closely, and I will tell you a story. Listen closely, and I will tell you a tale, a tale of conquest, betrayal, and war. A tale above all others. This is the story of the Swordsailor.
Skipper Skreatskin removed the telescope from his grizzled, weather-beaten face and smiled. Another island for his boys to conquer. To the men of the Swordsailor, looting was food, and the pirates were starving. He stepped down the hatch to the cabin to tell his men. However, the old pirate kept one thing to himself. He was getting tired of fighting all his life. His old injuries were catching up to him, and he planned to retire. But first, to tell the pirates about the island…
Thunk. A silver knife blade landed in the middle of the X on the map. The pirates on board the Swordsailor were hungry for conquest.
Their ship had hopped from island to island, capturing villagers and looting towns. The ship’s mighty cannons pounded the coastlines, eliminating defenses and allowing the pirates onboard to charge in with swords and pistols and finish the job. Hundreds had been imprisoned and marooned by the pirates, and dozens more forced to join their crew.
But one last island was giving them trouble. It was home to a violent group who had not taken kindly to being attacked, and they had fought back ferociously with cannons and small arms. Their boats had harried the Swordsailor from each side, attacking the pirates until they were finally forced to withdraw. Now, the pirates were anchored several miles out to sea, discussing their new challenge. A pirate pulled the knife out of the map. “THIS IS MADNESS!” screamed Swordsman Sid, a swashbuckling swordsman who doubled as the captain’s first mate. “Those terrible rats! WHY DON’T THEY JUST–”
“Relax, Sid,” said Skipper Skreatskin, the ship’s captain. “We’ll get those insubordinate cowards in time. I don’ know how they got the weapons, but we have other problems. Now, here’s me plan. We come around the sides of the island. The main ship will fire from one side, drawin’ the enemy’s attention. The longboats will go sneakin’ ‘round the other side an’ raid the island, catchin’ the enemy by surprise. We’ll take the whole lot prisoner an’ dump ‘em on a deserted island. This island’s hooked shape will work to our advantage. The Swordsailor can
come around the wide side. The bay on the other end’ll provide a hidden landin’ place for the other men.”
“That’s a mighty good plan.” Peg-Leg Peter wiped his nose with a filthy sleeve. “But what if those bilge rats leave some people behind tah hold the villages?”
“They’ll be focused on the other side. We’ll just catch ‘em from behind,” replied Old Man Silas, the ship’s quartermaster. “I’ll be outfittin’ the boys with rifles an’ swords, an’ y’all can just hold ‘em prisoner till the rest of us come chargin’ in.”
Suddenly, the pirates heard a rumbling from outside. They knew this sound from the days that they had spent battling the islanders and the years they had spent at sea. It was the sound of a cannon firing its payload of iron and fire. It was immediately followed by the crunch of wooden planks shattering.
“HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE!?” screamed Skipper Skreatskin. “They would have needed tah put a cannon on a boat! That’s IMPOSSIBLE!”
“Aye, but look at this, boss.” Old Man Silas rubbed his bloodshot eyes. “They used canvas bags. They inflated the bags an’ stuck ‘em on to the sides of a raft. The bags keep the raft afloat. Then they slapped a cannon on top.”
“Use the cannons, men! Shoot the bags an’ the raft will sink!” ordered Skipper Skreatskin. “Aye, Aye, Cap’n!” came the shout from outside. “Fire!”
BOOM! “Fire!” BOOM! “Fire!” BOOM! Some of the pirates also took potshots with their rifles.
Smoke wafted through the portholes into the cabin. But the smoke wasn’t from the ship’s guns. The masts were on fire! Skipper Skreatskin swore loudly. “SON OF A SCUM SUCKIN’ BILGE RAT!” he shouted and ran up to the main deck.
Immediately, a bullet planted itself in the wood at the skipper’s feet. Skipper Skreatskin looked astern and was filled with a mix of fear and rage. Snipers were hidden in the hills far away on the island! The skipper ran to one of the cannons on the quarterdeck and swiveled it around to face the island. He lit the fuse and plugged his ears. The cannon fired with a boom, and a few seconds later, a second Kra-KOOM! reached the pirates’ ears. Crow’s Nest Colton unfolded a telescope and looked toward the island. The captain had hit the enemy gunpowder storage, igniting it, and the snipers were running to their escape boats. The pirates watched the snipers row for the next island over. Gunner Gatson redirected a cannon toward them. The shot missed, but the waves created by the impact pushed the snipers to the pirate ship. Upon arrival, they were immediately put in chains and dragged roughly belowdecks to the holding cells.
On the raft, the inhabitants of the island roared with rage at the sight of their comrades being captured. They grabbed ropes hanging from the side of the pirate ship and climbed up. With eyes blazing, they charged the pirates viciously. Now the combat was hand to hand, sword to sword. With their blades drawn, the men of the Swordsailor shouted in return and charged to defend their ship’s honor.
Fierce fighting ensued, but ultimately the pirates emerged victorious. In the end, every single soldier on the raft had been tied up and thrown into the lock-up with the snipers.
Now that the immediate problem was taken care of, Skipper Skreatskin dispatched Peg-Leg Peter to watch the prisoners and brought Swordsman Sid, Crow’s Nest Colton, and Old Man Silas to his cabin to discuss the plan of attack on the remaining militia members.
“Just have Cannoneer Cooper take out the villages. The enemy will be hiding, an’ we can just grab ‘em an’ put ‘em in the hold,” suggested Old Man Silas.
“That should work,” replied Swordsman Sid, brow furrowed in thought. “But what if there are more snipers?”
“According to Peg-Leg Peter, there aren’t,” said Crow’s Nest Colton. “He threatened the ones in the lockup an’ they spilled.”
“We sh’d still go, just t’make sure. C’mon,” said Skipper Skreatskin, who up till then had been silent.
The pirates leaped into action. Wheelman Will brought the ship around and sailed into the island’s natural harbor. The longboats waited by the Swordsailor while Cannoneer Cooper
ordered his gunners to open fire on the villages. KRRRAAAAKK! Houses quickly collapsed under the onslaught of the cannon crew. A well exploded, flinging shattered stone everywhere.
The longboats rapidly approached the island. The pirates on board trooped toward the remains of the villages, where the remaining enemies were hiding in the barely intact shell of an abandoned house. Swordsman Sid threw three daggers in quick succession. They thudded into the wall above the soldiers’ heads. The pirates fired their rifles into the air three times to signal the ship that they had completed their task.
Immediately, cannonballs came soaring through the village. Within minutes, the whole town was obliterated. Still, the cannonballs kept coming. Realizing they had sent the wrong signal, the pirates herded the enemies together and hid behind a barely intact stone wall.
“Idiots!” shouted Skipper Skreatskin over the din of the cannons. He had not fired his gun. “We was supposed to shoot twice! Three times is tah call for cannon support! Shoot once now! Tell ‘em to stop!”
But his cries went unheard. One of the island inhabitants had kicked a pirate in the stomach and taken his pistols and rifle. That same rifle was now pointed at the other pirates.
Sneakily, Peg-Leg Peter came up behind the group member and knocked him unconscious with the hilt of his sword. The other enemies rose quickly and attacked the pirates. The pirates pulled swords and clubs out and went to work knocking out the enemy prisoners. Soon, most of the prisoners were lying down on the ground with their hands behind their heads. The rest were unconscious.
The winded pirate was helped up and his weapons were returned to him. Peg-Leg Peter covered the remaining prisoners with his two pistols.
Skipper Skreatskin pulled out his pistol and fired once into the sky. The cannon fire immediately stopped.
Without warning, several of the still-conscious enemies pulled knives from hidden pockets in their clothes and jumped the pirates. In response, Skipper Skreatskin fired his rifle inches above their heads. All of the prisoners froze, terrified.
“That’s right, be scared, ye cowardly scallywags! An’ if there be any more disturbance, I’ll aim me gun lower!” Skipper Skreatskin shouted menacingly and swept his rifle from side to side. “Sid, Peter, search ‘em. If any of ‘em have any guns or knives left, ye take ‘em. We’ll dump this lot on old Mortus Island. Peg-Leg Peter and Swordsman Sid searched the enemy troops thoroughly and came up with a tidy collection of small knives and elaborately made pistols.
The pirates forced the islanders onto the Swordsailor and put them in the hold. When the pirates passed Mortus Island to the north, they left all of the prisoners, including the snipers and the raft team, in a cave at the base of a cliff. “Welcome to Mortus Hotel,” said Crow’s Nest Colton with a horrible laugh. “Enjoy your stay!” The islanders looked at him with pleading eyes, but he paid them no mind.
The pirates then sailed on to the next island on their map. Ebony Reef was a medium-sized island covered in mountains with only one village. The island had numerous caves for the pirates to set up base in while they laid siege to the townspeople.
“Just haul some of them cannons off the ship an’ put ‘em around the village. Lay siege to everythin’. Then we charge in an’ hold everyone. I heard that people here are awful rebellious. Mebbe we can get some of ‘em to join us,” said Peg-Leg Peter.
Abruptly, a red and blue macaw flew in through the cabin window. “Good boy, Rollie. Ye find it?” said Old Man Silas to the macaw. Silas had sent the macaw to scout for a map showing new islands to raid. Rollie had brought back a weathered, aged map. On the map, Ebony Reef had been crudely marked with ink. “How about that, eh, boy! You got the same idea as we got!”
The pirates sailed into Beltza Harbor that night. Cannoneer Cooper and his second-in-command, Gunner Gatson, supervised twelve pirates in rolling six cannons off of the ship. The men put the cannons onto carts and stole horses to pull them. The carts and cannons were placed next to the ship while a scouting party located the village and worked out the fastest way to get there. “Ye march half a klick to the north, then ye cut through the mountains here and here, and ye gotta keep one cannon there, then take the rest of them and surround the village,” said Scout Sam, pointing to various places on a map of the island.
“Let’s get on with it, then,” said Skipper Skreatskin.
The pirates placed their cannons in position, aimed directly at the town. The pirates manning the cannons were given orders to attach flaming wood to the cannonballs so that the buildings would burn down when hit.
The siege began at dawn. The pirates fired twelve times every hour. Buildings burned and collapsed, but still, the villagers did not surrender.
Old Man Silas took a rifle from a chest and said, “Let’s all just march down there and take the village. Torch everythin’.” Everyone else agreed and the pirates prepared to take the village by storm.
Old Man Silas handed around axes to break down doors. The pirates armed themselves with guns and swords. They attacked at midday. When the men got into the village, they searched every house and building. Crow’s Nest Colton reported to Skipper Skreatskin, “I don’t understand a thing about this. There’s no one here!” Skipper Skreatskin agreed and the men marched back up the mountain to the cannons.
As Swordsman Sid was trudging along behind Old Man Silas, he felt a cold draft along his neck, as if something invisible had flown very close behind him. He shivered, but dismissed it as a thought and kept walking.
A pearly white wraith of a farmer watched the pirates from behind.
The pirates feasted on a light lunch of cod.
Another specter of a baker eyed the pirates from a cave further up the mountain.
Suddenly, they saw two jets of flame shoot out from high up on a cliff.
“We’re cursed!” screamed Peg-Leg Peter. The other pirates shot at the top of the cliff with their rifles. A roar of rage greeted the pirates’ ears. A shadowy form lunged over the cliff and spread massive wings. A dragon had come to haunt the cliffs of Ebony Reef!
“Those wings are bigger than the ship!” shouted Skipper Skreatskin, loading his rifle again. “That thing is a fleet killer! We can’t let it get away!”
The pirates went back to their ship and pulled ropes out of the hold. They sent Climber Charlie up the cliff and had him drop the lines down to the rest of the men so they could climb up.
The pirates hid behind a cluster of rocks and listened to the dragon. Among the stomping thumps and bursts of fire, they heard another tone. A high pitched tone. A tone that sounded like…
“Sid! There are villagers in there!” whispered Skipper Skreatskin.
“They’re goin’ to be mighty disappointed when they find out what we did to their village,” commented Swordsman Sid dryly.
“Forget the village!” whispered Skipper Skreatskin angrily. “It’s going to burn them alive! We may be pirates, but we’re not completely evil! We don’t kill! We have to save them!”
“But how?” asked Swordsman Sid.
“We’ll have to crush that dragon somehow. Scout Sam shot it from behind. His bullet bounced back at him and he had to dodge it. The beast didn’t even notice. It’s impenetrable!”
“The only way we can crush it is with huge rocks, an’ we don’ have huge rocks!”
“Maybe not, but we do have cannonballs…”
“I like the way you think, boss.”
“Closer! Closer!” The Swordsailor swung neatly into the dock. “Perfect, Will! Tell Gatson to load the cannons!”
BOOM! The cannons fired their first volley. BOOM! BOOM! Kra-KOOM! Heavy rocks dropped from the cave and smashed onto the dragon. Holes were torn in his wings. He was completely hobbled. Then the cannons fired their final volley. The dragon was crushed under the onslaught of the boulders released by the cannons. The sound of cheering reached the pirates’ ears. The villagers hailed their saviors. Immediately they swarmed to their village and began to rebuild.
Swordsman Sid loaded his rifle. “Hey, boys, come with me an’ let’s grab some of them scales!” The pirates charged into the cave and retrieved scales from the dragon. “Now we can make the ship bulletproof!”
Within a week, the ship was completely bulletproofed. Except for one spot…
All the pirates were celebrating onboard the newly reinforced Swordsailor. “A toast!” shouted Skipper Skreatskin. “A toast to our glorious conquest! I am seriously getting too old for this,” he muttered under his breath.
“Huzzah!” all the pirates shouted.
“But,” said Skipper Skreatskin after the noise died down. “If I may ask this, which of you is the traitor?”
The pirates all mumbled and looked sideways at each other.
“Traitor?” asked Swordsman Sid.
“Someone took weapons from our armory and armed the islanders. Someone summoned the dragon here. Someone captured the villagers!”
“Captain?” Crow’s Nest Colton said.
“Well? Out with it! Who is it! You, Sid?”
“Never, Captain!” shouted Swordsman Sid.
“Good, Sid. I believe you. Was it you, Gatson?”
As Skipper Skreatskin worked his way around the circle of pirates, Crow’s Nest Colton slid a hand into his pocket.
Suddenly Crow’s Nest Colton pulled a loaded pistol from his pocket and shot Skipper Skreatskin in the chest. The skipper stumbled backward and collapsed on the table.
Crow’s Nest Colton attempted to grab Swordsman Sid’s sword from him, but the swordsman punched him in the face so hard, he flew up the ramp to the main deck. Sid followed him. “Nobody. Touches. My. Sword!” he shouted, punctuating each word with a punch.
Swordsman Sid, as first mate, took charge. “Silas, you lock him up.” The rest of the pirates hurried to their captain. To their surprise, he was already sitting up and shaking off the wound.
“Stupid pistol misfired,” said Skipper Skreatskin. “Couldn’t kill a mouse. Let’s go interrogate him!” However, when the pirates got to the lockup, Crow’s Nest Colton was gone, and his chains were lying on the ground. And to add to that, all the pirates suddenly felt the deck tilt. When they were bulletproofing the ship, Crow’s Nest Colton had left one part unreinforced. Now he had smashed a hole in the wood and the ship was sinking.
“Abandon ship!” shouted Skipper Skreatskin. The pirates rushed to the longboats, only to find that they were smashed!
“Jump!” yelled the captain. All the pirates jumped and headed to shore as fast as they could swim.
When they got there, Skipper Skreatskin said, “Ay, boys, maybe we should stop being pirates. I’m gettin’ too old for adventure.”
The pirates settled down on the island and ended their pirating ways; after all, they had already built up an immense fortune. They devoted their lives to farming, but they still lived extravagantly.
Three months later, Crow’s Nest Colton was found dead on the beach. He appeared to have been nibbled at by sharks. Serves him right.
And that, dear readers, is the tale of the pirates of the Swordsailor.