Simon Tucker gritted his teeth as he watched the boatswain flogging his crewmate.
Lionel Kaye wasn’t making a sound, but Simon could see the perspiration on his forehead and the blood on his chin where he’d bitten his lip.
That was nothing compared to the blood running down his back like great red rivers on a flesh-colored map.
Simon longed to run forward, tear the whip from Brewer’s hand, and use it on him and the captain instead, but he knew that doing so would only make matters worse for Lionel.
Henry Gibson, the cabin boy, clutched Simon’s hand. His face was whiter than the ship’s sails and his eyes were wider than a fish’s.
No matter how many times Captain Weeks called his men to witness one of their own being punished, Henry always acted like he’d never seen such a thing before. Simon didn’t blame him.
Flogging wasn’t fit for a grown man to watch, let alone a fifteen-year-old boy.
Brewer struck the final and harshest blow. Lionel moaned in pain before collapsing against the mast.
“You are dismissed,” Captain Weeks announced. He was a tall man, halfway between young and old, with a pinched face and gray eyes that were perpetually narrowed.
The corners of his mouth hinted at a satisfied smile, as they always did after he disciplined a sailor. Simon’s free hand twitched.
It was a shame he wasn’t within slapping distance of the captain.
Simon, Henry, and several of the other sailors rushed forward to untie Lionel and carry him below.
Lionel tried to smile, but when he saw the ship’s doctor approaching with a bucket of saltwater, his eyes fluttered shut and his head fell back.
“He’s fainted,” Dr. Dunn said. He was a short man whose brown hair was thinning on the top of his head but still grew long and thick on his face. Like Captain Weeks, Dr.
Dunn rarely showed emotion, but unlike Captain Weeks, he was well-liked among the crew, for his grave manner hid a kindly nature. “Probably for the best. Poor man.”
“Gibson!” The captain’s shout was like a thunderclap. Henry squeaked in fright before scampering back up on deck.
Simon watched him go before turning back to Dr. Dunn, who was industriously rinsing the stripes on Lionel’s back. “Will he be all right, Doctor?”
“It’s impossible to tell at this point,” the doctor answered, “but he’s a strong man. I wouldn’t give up hope.”
Simon wasn’t reassured. Lionel’s ribs showed through his skin, and his face was as pale as driftwood from loss of blood.
He brushed his friend’s sweaty auburn curls off his face and squeezed his limp hand, then went up the steps.
As he emerged on deck, Simon beheld Henry lying at the captain’s feet, clutching his cheek. A familiar wave of fury crashed over him.
Someday, Weeks, he thought as Henry rose unsteadily to his feet and followed the captain into the cabin. Someday, I’ll make you pay for all this.
“Keep an eye out for pirates!” Captain Weeks called over his shoulder before shutting the cabin door.
Simon watched the door for a moment before returning to his duties. “Yes, we should all keep an eye out for pirates,” he whispered to himself.
Simon was roused from sleep by Dr. Dunn shaking him awake. “What’s the matter, Doctor?” he asked blearily. Then he remembered, and a chill gripped his heart. “Lionel…”
The doctor nodded. “He’s gone,” he said quietly. “I thought you should be the first to know. I’m sorry.”
Simon couldn’t move. This wasn’t really happening. It had to be a nightmare. The world tilted sideways and abruptly righted itself. He swung his leg out of his hammock. “Let me see him.
” The words rattled from his throat like a carriage over cobblestones.
Lionel looked even paler in death. Simon stared at his closed eyes, willing them to open and their owner to sit up and proclaim he’d just been sleeping.
His legs folded beneath him and he fell to his knees. Neither God nor man could see the tears filling his eyes.
“…We commit this body to the deep. Amen.”
Lionel’s body, wrapped in its shroud and weighted by a pair of old shackles, hit the water with a splash and sank beneath the waves.
Grief showed plainly on the face of nearly every man still onboard; some were weeping openly. Captain Weeks and Brewer weren’t even pretending to look mournful.
Henry’s face was pressed into Simon’s side, his tears soaking the man’s shirt.
Simon gazed at the place where the shroud had disappeared. It was no good trying to force himself to cry. His tears were spent.
Something hard had supplanted them, something that might have frightened him had he been in any other state of mind. He could wait no longer.
He had to act, and he had to act now, before any of Lionel’s mates joined him on the bottom of the ocean.
“I’ve had enough of that beast Weeks,” Simon declared. He, Henry, and several of the other sailors were huddled amidst the hammocks on the lower deck.
A single lantern cast a glow on everyone’s faces.
“So have I,” Henry said loyally.
“We’ve all had enough of Weeks,” George, one of the other men, said, “and none of us want to attend any more funerals aboard this ship, but even if we take her,
what do you propose we do after that?”
Simon shrugged. “The way I see it, we can either hang for mutiny…or we can hang for piracy.”
Shock and fear silently rippled through the cluster. Simon plunged ahead. “Think. You know what valuables are in the holds of ships like this. You’ll be masters of your own fate.
You’ll never have to fear the lash again. And you’ll be able to punish men like Weeks for their crimes.”
“I’m with you,” Henry spoke up. All heads turned to look at him. Tear tracks were clearly visible on his face. “You’re all the family I have. I already lost my parents. I lost Lionel today.
I won’t lose you.”
George grinned. “You heard the boy, Simon. None of us are losing you.”
The others murmured agreement. Simon blinked. He hadn’t expected such a ready demonstration of support. “Thank you,” he said, his voice shaking a little.
“Do you have a plan?” Dr. Dunn asked.
Simon nodded. “Here’s what we’re going to do…”
“What is the meaning of this?” Captain Weeks shouted as a handful of mutineers fettered his wrists and dragged him from his cabin. Two more stood guard over a bound and gagged Brewer.
Simon snatched the captain’s hat and placed it on his own head. “It means you’re no longer in command of this vessel.”
“We wanted to flog you,” George chimed in, “but we decided there had been quite enough flogging on this ship already. Now, into the boat with you both.”
The victorious crew deposited a struggling Brewer and a protesting Weeks in the rowboat and lowered it into the ocean. Simon watched it drift away before turning to address the sailors.
“Gentlemen, I thank you for your efforts, but there is one more task we must undertake. When Weeks captained this ship, she was called the Dragonfly.
Now that he has been ousted, I believe we should rename her. Have you any ideas?”
“The Judith,” Henry suggested. “My mother’s name was Judith.”
Simon laughed. “That’s certainly a fitting name. All in favor of naming the ship in honor of Mrs. Judith Gibson, say aye!”
“Aye!” the crew thundered.
“Three cheers for the Judith!” George shouted.
“And three cheers for Captain Tucker!” Dr. Dunn added.
Captain Tucker. Warmth spread from the center of Simon’s chest throughout his whole body as he listened to the men—his men—cheer for him. He would not let them down.
Adventure, fortune, and freedom were on the horizon, and he intended to sail the Judith straight toward them.