Papa, I'm scared!" the little girl cried out as she slid awkwardly across the deck. Before she could regain her balance, she crashed into her father's arms.
"Oh, Dolphin!" he said, shielding her from sheets of rain and sea spray. "What are you doing up here?"
She looked up at him. "I heard a monster out in the sea!"
"A monster? My darling daughter, you heard the thunder and the wind, that's all." He snuggled her in close beneath his coat. "There are no monsters in the sea. It's a storm."
"But it's a big storm!" she whimpered.
"No, not big. Just noisy." But this voice was not her father's.
Dolphin peeked out from her father's coat and grinned. It was Brand, the young ship's mate she'd teased since they left port. You're my blond monkey, she'd said to Brand. And most times, he'd laugh, make chimp noises, and scurry up the nearest rope ladder or rigging. Now, the wind whipped his long hair about his face. Dolphin saw him wink and felt her heart flutter.
"I'm still scared," she said.
"It's just a squall," Brand said confidently. "Captain Halifax will see us through. And the Trafalgar is the pride ofHis Majesty's fleet! Now, you mind your father and go back to your quarters 'til it blows over." And just like that, he was gone across the deck.
"There, you see?" said Dolphin's father. "No monsters. Just a storm." He looked down at his precious little girl. Her bright coppery locks were matted against her pale cheeks.
Dolphin stared back, but up beyond her father, following the mainmast through shrouds of rigging, past the crow's-nest, and into the turbulent gray sky. Lightning slashed overhead, and Dolphin ducked again into her father's coat. Thunder crashed, and the entire ship trembled.
"Papa!" she cried. He gave her a brave smile and cradled her head against his chest. He hoped she couldn't hear his heart hammering away. "There, there, my Dolphin. Remember what Brand said. It will all be over soon. Now, let's get you back to our quarters and snug in bed."
"But, Papa, I want to stay here with you!"
"No, you will be much safer below," he replied, a slight edge to his voice. "I have work to do. I'm helping the quartermaster. He's waiting for me ... see?" He pointed to the grizzled graybeard sailor near the mast. He nodded and grinned at Dolphin. Suddenly, Dolphin clutched her father's leg. She stared, pointing past the quarter-master, past the mainmast, out into the rolling sea. "What's that?"
An enormous ship appeared in the distance. It was tall, with at least three masts, and narrowed sharply at the bow. It knifed through the waves, driving toward them.
Dolphin's father bent low and held his little girl by the shoulders. "Stay here," he whispered urgently. He ran to the quartermaster and pointed out into the sea.
"Pirates," hissed the quartermaster.
"Pirates? In the middle of the storm?"
The quartermaster did not reply immediately. He stared out into the sea. Abruptly, he took in a sharp breath and went very rigid. He grabbed Dolphin's father by the shoulder of his coat and practically dragged him back across the deck. "Get your daughter down below," he said as they drew near the ship.
"Come, my child," Dolphin's father said, his voice taut. "We must go to our quarters."
"But, Papa, the ship ... who are they?"
"No one to worry about, Dolphin."
"You best not lie to your daughter." The quartermaster's voice was flat, terrifyingly void of emotion. "That ship ... it's the Raven. Bartholomew Thorne."
Dolphin's father felt the blood in his veins turn to ice at the uttering of that name. He whisked his daughter off the deck and raced for the cabins. He banged awkwardly through a door. "I'm so sorry, Dolphin," he managed to say. He could feel her trembling against him. He held her close and continued running. A hundred thoughts raced through his mind: memories, hopes, regrets.
"Papa!" she pleaded as they plunged into their cabin.
He sat down with her on the bed and snuffed the candle in the lantern. As darkness enveloped them, he said, "Don't worry, my precious daughter. It will all be over soon."
And he began to pray.
Excerpted from Isle of Swords by Wayne Thomas Batson Copyright © 2007 by Wayne Thomas Batson. Excerpted by permission.