Daughter of the Pirate King Page 1

Chapter 1

I HATE HAVING TO dress like a man.

The cotton shirt is too loose, the breeches too big, the boots too uncomfortable. My hair is bound on the top of my head, secured in a bun underneath a small sailor’s hat. My sword is strapped tightly to the left side of my waist, a pistol undrawn on my right.

The clothing is awkward as it hangs loose in all the wrong places. And the smell! You’d think men did nothing but roll around in dead fish guts while smearing their own excrement on their sleeves. But perhaps I shouldn’t complain so.

Such precautions are necessary when one’s being invaded by pirates.

We’re outnumbered. Outgunned. Seven of my men lie dead on their backs. Two more jumped overboard as soon as they saw the black flag of the Night Farer on the horizon.

Deserters. They’re the most cowardly filth. They deserve whatever fate comes to them. Whether they tire and drown or get claimed by the sea life.

Steel twangs through the air. The ship rocks from the blasts of cannons. We cannot hold out much longer.

“Two more down, Captain,” Mandsy, my temporary first mate, says from where she peeks through the trapdoor.

“I should be up there, shoving steel between ribs,” I say, “not hiding like some helpless whelp.”

“A little patience,” she reminds me. “If we’re to survive this, you need to stay put.”

“Survive?” I ask, offended.

“Let me rephrase. If we’re to succeed, you really shouldn’t be seen performing impressive feats with the sword.”

“But maybe if I just killed a few of them…” I say more to myself.

“You know we can’t risk that,” she says. Then she adds abruptly, “More men have boarded the ship. I think they’re headed this way.”

Finally. “Give the order to surrender.”

“Aye, Captain.” She ascends the rest of the steps leading to the deck.

“And don’t get yourself killed!” I hiss after her.

She nods before traveling through the trapdoor.

Don’t get killed, I say again in my head. Mandsy is one of only three I trust on this ship. She’s a good gal, very bright, optimistic—and a good voice of reason, which I desperately needed during our voyage. She volunteered to come, along with two other girls from my real crew. I shouldn’t have allowed them to join me, but I needed their help keeping these worthless men in line. Life these last few weeks would have been so much easier if I could have had my crew on this venture.

“Lay down your arms!”

I can barely make out her cry through the sounds of fighting. But then things calm down. Cutlasses clatter to the wooden deck almost instantly. The men currently under my command had to be expecting the order. Praying for it, even. If I did not order the surrender, perhaps they would have given up on their own. By no means does this crew consist of the bravest bunch.

I climb the stairs, lying in wait just belowdecks, staying out of sight. I’m to play the part of the harmless cabin boy. If these men were to discover who I truly am …

“Check belowdecks. Make sure no one’s hiding.” It’s one of the pirates. I can’t see him from where I hide, but if he’s giving orders, he’s either the first mate or the captain.

I tense, even though I know exactly what comes next.

The trapdoor lifts, and a hideous face comes into view, complete with a foul, scraggly beard, yellow teeth, and a broken nose. Meaty arms grasp me roughly, hoisting me off the ladder and tossing me onto the deck.

It’s a miracle that my hat stays on.

“Line them up!”

I stand as my weapons are removed by the ugly pirate. Then his foot jams into my back as he forces me to my knees, along with the rest of my men. I look down the line and relax as I see Mandsy. Sorinda and Zimah are unharmed as well. Good. My girls are safe. To hell with the rest of the crew.

I take a moment to observe the pirate barking out orders. He’s a young man, perhaps not even twenty years of age. Unusual, that. Young men are not usually the ones giving orders, especially among crews such as this one. His eyes are alight with the victory of the battle. His stance is sure, his face confident. He’s probably a head taller than I, were I standing, with dark brown hair the color of a seal’s coat. His face is pleasant enough to look at, but that means nothing to me when I know he belongs to this crew. He notices Mandsy in the lineup. Her hat has fallen off, revealing her long brown hair and pretty face. He winks at her.

All in all, I’d say he’s a cocky bastard.

My crew and I wait in silence for whatever the pirates have in store for us. Smoke billows around us from the cannon blasts. Debris is scattered around the ship. The smell of gunpowder leaches into the air, scratching at the back of my throat.

Footsteps sound as a man walks across the gangplank that connects the two ships. His head points down, revealing nothing more than a black hat with a white plume rising from the side.

“Captain,” the same pirate shouting orders from before says, “all the men on the ship are before you.”

“Good, Riden. But let’s hope they’re not all men.”

A few pirates snicker. Some of my men glance nervously in my direction.

Fools! They’re giving me away too easily.

“I’ve spotted three lasses so far, but none of them have red hair.”

The captain nods. “Listen up!” he shouts, raising his head so we can see him for the first time.

He’s not much older than his cocky first mate. I slowly take in the faces of the pirate crew. Many can’t even grow hair on their chins. It’s an incredibly young pirate crew. I’d heard that the Night Farer was no longer under the command of the pirate lord Jeskor—that he was succeeded by a young captain, but I hadn’t expected the entire crew to be so young.

“You have all heard the stories of Jeskor the Headbreaker,” the young pirate captain continues. “I am his son, Draxen. And you will find that my reputation will grow to be far worse.”

I can’t help myself. I laugh. Does he think he can make a reputation for himself by telling everyone how fearsome he is?

“Kearan,” the captain says, nodding to the man behind me. Kearan rams the bottom of his sword onto the top of my head. It’s not hard enough to knock me out, but it is enough to hurt like hell.

That’s enough of that, I think. Mandsy’s words of caution are so far from my mind now. I’m done kneeling on the floor like some servant. Bracing my hands against the wooden deck, I extend my legs backward, hooking my feet behind the heels of the ugly pirate standing there. With one yank forward, Kearan topples backward. I stand quickly, turn around, and take my sword and pistol from him before he can regain his feet.