The Admiral of the pirate fleet had a name feared above all others.
“Black Robe, what are your orders?” asked Lieutenant Jives.
“Kill the wounded, but give those fit to sail the chance to join us. If they consent, they may keep their spoils of war and avoid a painful death. Do what you like with those who deny my service. You may run them through or hang them from the rigging. After you carry out my orders, send a signal flag to the rest of the fleet. Our five ships will intercept the schooner off the larboard bow.”
Lieutenant Jives walked away to bully the midshipmen under his command.
Rucksack knew his plan could just as easily fail as succeed. Standing underneath the main mast, he pulled his wand from inside his cloak, whispering incantations; after lighting a blue fire, the parachute inflated. Soon the empty sock transformed into a balloon, rising above The Majestic.
There was a jolt as the ship ascended into the air. Rucksack didn’t waste time navigating into the wind.
Sarah noticed the ocean turning black, with white caps on every wave. Electrical root systems descended from thunder clouds above.
It was deafening, much loader than cannon fire.
Barney could see Black Robe’s cloak flying out behind him as the pirate gave orders to kill the King’s crew. The pirate fleet altered course, following The Majestic. It was impossible to catch a flying ship, but a well-placed cannon ball could change things.
“Don’t aim for the hull, damn you. I said to aim for the balloon. Filling the keel full of holes won’t sink her!” shouted Black Robe.
Rucksack knew they had less to fear from cannon fire and more to worry from the maelstrom that grew stronger. The cumulonimbus clouds rose like burnt marshmallows in the dark sky with thunderheads as flat as pancakes.
The Majestic floated higher.
Mr. Davis’ green ship, the smallest in the fleet, shot a cannon ball strait up at the hot air balloon. The eight pound ball reached a mile into the sky, then plummeted through the deck of the Shamrock, cracking her keel.
With the Shamrock crippled, Black Robe knew he would not be able to direct his ghost ship after the disappearing balloon. Plotting their last direction, he calculated their probable destination, Volcano Island.
Meanwhile, The Majestic flew over the black pancakes where the air was thin and the oxygen difficult to breath.
“Those pirates won’t give up easily,” choked Rucksack.
After clearing the storm, The Majestic landed into calmer seas.
Rucksack kept his skeleton crew busy with chores like sanding the deck with holystones, checking the ocean depths for hidden reefs, and fishing for sharks. After a few weeks, provisions ran low, forcing Barney and Sarah to wonder if Rucksack plotted their course correctly.
At twilight, Sarah thought she saw the shadow of a ship on the horizon. Everyone went to bed fearing it was the ghost ship. In the morning, she was right. Black Robe was within firing distance.
Rucksack gave the sails an extra dose of wind, but the chase ended before it began; four ships appeared on the horizon in front of them, blocking their escape.
Cannonballs ripped into The Majestic.
“Rather than going to Volcano Island, we will turn south, leading the pirates into the Morasses of Mulansfrog,” shouted Rucksack. “Barney, I need you to get the balloon ready. Sarah, load the cannons. We will blast our way out of the blockade!”
Altering course toward The Shamrock, Rucksack played a naval game of chicken with Captain Bartholomew. “Standby on the guns while I light the blue fire!” shouted Rucksack. “Stead, aim; let them have it!”
The Majestic unloaded her guns as Mean Nancy and the rest of Rucksack’s cannons did their worst. Both ships splintered from an exchange of cannon fire, nearly colliding, but The Majestic pulled into the sky at the last second, finishing off the Shamrock.
It would’ve ascended if the ghost ship hadn’t fired a shot through the balloon. Smoking, it eventually caught fire, leaving Rucksack no alternative, but to cut it loose. The bag rose into the sky like a balloon lost on an ill-fated birthday.
The Majestic plummeted toward the ocean, striking the waves, submerging, but quickly regaining its keel. Rucksack filled the sails with air, navigating his crippled craft into the swamps.