Blissfully and entirely unaware of the peril facing her sister and mother, Dunstana is continuing to have the best day of her life.
Her autograph book is steadily filling with the signatures of all the best pirates in Realmgard, plus the picture of a happy little kitty-cat that Skragsgar the Slayer drew for her.
He named it Mittens.
After they’re finished mingling, the members of the Brotherhood of the Coasts and various onlookers and visitors are starting to settle into the rows and rows of seats in front of the stage.
As she and her dad move through the rows, Dunstana gasps at the surprise that awaits her.
There’s a card fastened to the chair, and on that card is inscribed in fancy letters the best words Dunstana has ever read:
Reserved for Captain Dunstana F. Darkstone, Brotherhood Junior Associate.
“Dad!” she exclaims. “Dad! The chair’s got my name on it! Does that mean I’m part of the Brotherhood?”
She gasps again as she realises the significance of what she just said.
“Dad! I’m part of the Brotherhood!”
“Technically, you won’t be a full member of the Brotherhood until you’re sixteen,” Dorian explains as gently as he can to avoid crushing Dunstana’s dreams forever.
“Oh,” Dunstana says quietly as a look of profound disappointment settles on her face. “But I’m a really good pirate, Dad.”
Her lip starts to quiver.
“And I really want to be part of the Brotherhood.”
Dorian can hear the silent sound of breaking dreams and quickly moves to unruin Dunstana’s day.
“No no no,” he says desperately. “That just means you can’t be part of the Board of Directors or vote for the Sharkies until you’re sixteen. You can still do everything else. I’ll even teach you the secret handshake, I promise.”
Dunstana’s sad face quickly turns back into a smile. “Oh, that’s alright, then. I was worried there for a minute.”
“And just for the record,” Dorian tells her. “Even if you weren’t part of the Brotherhood, as far as I’m concerned, you’d still be the second-best pirate here.” He leans down to her ear and adds with a conspiratorial whisper, “The best one is me.”
“Really? But what about Plaid—”
“It’s me, Dunstana,” Dorian insists.
Dunstana hops up onto her chair and Dorian settles into the one beside her.
“Oh, hey, Mona!” she says cheerfully when she notices the familiar face on the other side.
“Myra,” the older pirate mutters, once again completely and utterly ignored.
A gradual hush settles over the crowd as Plaid Jack climbs the steps to the stage and stands at the speaker’s podium. He clears his throat and smiles, flashing his golden tooth.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he begins. “I regret to inform you that you’re in the wrong place.”
There is a wave of confused muttering throughout the crowd of pirates at this announcement.
Plaid Jack pays it no mind and continues talking, “However, it is my great good pleasure to welcome my fellow rogues and scoundrels and assorted ne’er-do-wells of the Piratical Brotherhood of the Coasts to the Ninety-Third Annual General Assembly, Box Social and Sharky Awards.”
There is a long, collective “Ooooooh” of realisation from the crowd, followed by a wave of laughter as they make sense of Plaid Jack’s joke.
“I don’t get it,” mutters No-Joke Rodriguez.
“Now, please rise for the Fraternal Anthem of the Brotherhood of the Coasts,” Plaid Jack says. As one, the members of the Brotherhood rise and put their hands over their hearts as the Brotherhood Orchestra — consisting mostly of old pirates with tiny accordions — begins to play.
“Thank you all,” Plaid Jack says as the anthem is concluded. “If you’d all sit down, we can start the award ceremony, beginning with the award for Outstanding Achievement in Original Jolly Roger Design.”
While Dunstana settles into the best day of her life, Kat continues to have one of the worst — which, given the less than enchanted life she leads, is saying something.
Dirk Broadsword, holding out his burlap sack, moves expectantly towards Amara and Estelle.
“Now, ma’am, if you’d be so kind,” the bandit says to Estelle.
Estelle doesn’t move, and Kat can’t help but be impressed that her mother does not seem in the least intimidated by the bandit. Of course, she’s also terrified that this is going to make him do something stupid.
Kat starts to feel around the tabletop for something to hit him with.
“I accept your surrender,” Estelle declares calmly.
Dirk stares blankly down at Estelle. “I don’t think you really understand the situation,” he says, momentarily falling out of character.
Estelle shrugs and takes a sip of her orange juice. “No. I understand the situation perfectly. I’m just trying to save you from embarrassing yourself.”
Alison Steel rolls her eyes. “Honestly, this doesn’t take a genius, old lady, just put all—”
“Old lady?” Amara repeats indignantly. “How dare you! Take that back right this minute, you fiend!”
“Shut! Up!” Dirk yells. “Both of you! Just shut up and let me rob you!” He glowers at Estelle and Amara. “Now, we can do this the easy way—”
Estelle, evidently, disagrees.
As the bandit steps forward, Estelle brings her hand up and back, then quickly forward. Her open palm connects with Dirk Broadsword’s cheek, the impact making a sound like a cannon going off.
Kat’s face hurts just watching. Even so, she can’t help but smile watching her mother take him down a peg so decisively.
“Honey-Bear!” Alison Steel exclaims, wheeling towards her partner. “That old lady hit you!” She glares at Estelle. “Someone needs to teach you some manners!”
“Funny,” Amara scoffs, crossing her arms over her chest. “I could say the same thing about you mongrels.”
Alison Steel growls through clenched teeth and tightens her grip on her sword.
Dirk Broadsword puts up a hand to appeal for calm. “Settle down, Sugar-Blossom,” he says, rubbing his wounded cheek. “I’ve got things under control.”
Clearly, he doesn’t.
This time, it’s Amara that slaps him, sending him staggering across the patio.
Once he recovers, Dirk Broadsword takes a slow, deep breath and turns back to Amara.
“Right. We’ll do things the hard way, then.”
“You can certainly try, you cad,” Amara says icily.
She slaps him again.
“You!” Alison snarls, positioning her face a mere few inches from Amara’s. “You are the single most annoying, reprehensible person I have ever met. You yelled at my Honey-Bear. You hit him! Twice! And now, we are going to teach you a lesson!”
With a wordless roar of fury, she shoves Amara forcefully to the ground. Kat feels a cold wave of dread wash over her, which quickly turns into smouldering rage.
Her hands ball into fists at her side. She’s going to get them for this. She just needs to figure out how.
With any pretense gone of being anything other than complete and utter scum, Dirk Broadsword stands over Amara, grinning with wolfish glee.
“Not so tough now, are you, Little Miss Prissy?” he asks. “Say,” His grin grows as something catches his eye, “that’s a nice necklace.”
He turns back to his partner.
“What do you think, Sugar-Blossom?”
“I think it’ll make us rich,” Alison Steel answers, with the same hungry smile. “Hurry up and grab it.
Amara defensively clasps her hand over her mother’s necklace. Kat can tell that she’s terrified. Her mother’s necklace is her most precious possession.
“Just stay still,” Dirk Broadsword urges. “And I promise that—”
While the Bandits were focused on Estelle and Amara, Kat started looking for something to use a weapon. Once she managed to get her hands on a silver coffeepot, she began waiting for the right moment to use it.
She promptly decides that the right moment is now, as she desperately flings the pot at Dirk Broadsword.
“Honey-Bear!” Alison Steel exclaims in horror.
“I’m okay,” Dirk Broadsword assures his partner. He wheels in the direction the thrown teapot, pointing towards Kat. “But Eyebrows over here won’t be.”
“Eyebrows?” Kat repeats hotly.
The bandit’s words cut more deeply than Kat would care to admit, bringing up unpleasant childhood memories. After her tallness, the other kids’ favourite thing about her to make fun of was her rather prominent eyebrows.
The term “freakishly big” came up more than once. And then they’d ask Kat if she knew she had caterpillars crawling across her face.
“Come here and say that again,” Kat dares the bandit. “And I’ll—”
“You’ll what?” the bandit asks, pointing at Kat’s eyebrows. “Beat me up with those things? Seriously, do you need a licence for them?”
Kat begins reaching for the nearest table, feeling around for something else to throw at him. Her attempts are interrupted by Estelle suddenly interposing herself between her daughter and the bandit, snatching up a silver serving tray from a nearby table.
“Say another word to my daughter,” Estelle warns in a voice Kat has never before heard from her mother. “And you’re going to lose your tongue.”
It’s like she just caught the bandits sneaking into the cookie jar, Kat realises in awe, only multiplied by about a million.
“I’m not afraid of you, old lady,” Dirk Broadsword says, taking a step forward.
“You should be,” Estelle says, taking a step back from the wobbling bandit, the silver tray in her hands now bearing a head-sized dent on its surface. “I married a Darkstone, and I suppose I’ve picked up a few tricks.”
“I’m fine,” Dirk Broadsword assures his partner. “That barely even hurt. Just give me a minute, and I’ll take care of Eyebrows and this old witch—”
Dirk Broadsword blinks, watering eyes in surprise, and makes a sound like air being slowly squeezed out of a balloon as he crumples to the ground.
As he falls, Kat sees Amara standing over him with a candelabra in her hands.
“I told you not to talk to Mrs. Darkstone like that,” she seethes. “And to insult Katherine so crudely like that. You lowborn dastards! How dare you!”
Alison Steel immediately runs to assist her companion. “Honey-Bear! Speak to me! Don’t go into the light! Don’t— WAAAAAAAH!”
Unfortunately for her, Kat sticks out a leg as she runs past, tripping the bandit and sending her sprawling in a heap on top of her partner.
As the Bandits of Goldharbour lie on the floor, the air is filled with the sounds of hurrying feet, shrill whistles and voices calling “Stop! Thieves!”
Alison Steel is the first bandit to her feet, quickly pulling Dirk Broadsword up after her. “Come on, Honey-Bear! It’s the guards! We need to go!”
Even in her panic, she still has enough presence of mind to scoop up the temporarily-forgotten sacks of loot.
“I can taste how Purple smells,” a dazed and battered Dirk Broadsword notes. “And everything feels like Thursday.”
With Alison Steel doing something between carrying and dragging the dazed Dirk Broadsword, the Bandits of Goldharbour beat a hasty, clumsy retreat into the back alleys of Goldharbour. At the very same moment, the City Guard of Goldharbour appears on the patio to secure the area.
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