'Not mine alone be this tale, but of all who fear to reap what they sow.'
            Jeremy Albert Wrecker, 1597

Chapter 1



            "A ship!" cried several shrill voices from outside our house.
            Wooden plates clattered as my sister, Margaret Blythe, always the keenest for a waylay, dropped her dishes on our butcher's block and ran for the door. Kicking back our chairs and benches, leaving the last of our midday meal uneaten, our whole family followed her outside.
            "Quiet!" Cousin Sidney hissed at my eager, vivacious young cousins. "Inside the house. Gerome. Jeremy. Check it out!"
            Gerome David and I dashed off down the thickly-wooded trail while our complaining littlest cousins were herded safely inside. We grinned as we ran; we'd already had two sand-fleas this summer, and a third would keep our stomachs full and our fireplaces roaring all winter. To the port cliff we dashed, staying low, hiding behind the thick dried brush that we'd piled there to camouflage our primary look-out. From atop the craggy port cliff, six fathoms above the crashing, splashing surf, we spied through our best brass telescopes out across the wide blue Atlantic, scanning the horizon. On the briny, wind-swept, foam-capped ocean, under a sapphire sky, floated three tall masts of billowed white sails over a crowded wooden deck.
            "Is it a sand-flea?" I asked over the roar of the surf.
            "They're not sand-fleas until they sail into Gibbet Bay," Gerome David scowled. "It's a flea-bag; just pray that they're not thinkers." Thinkers would ruin our day. Our last flea-bag were thinkers; they anchored outside of Gibbet Bay and rowed in a small skiff to search for the Golden Twinkle, our imaginary treasure, and then departed as soon as their rowboat was secured. We'd had to hide and watch, impotently cursing behind our piled brush.
            "A schooner," I said, looking through my spyglass, "inside the inlet, coming straight at us."
            "Pretty loaded," Gerome David said. "About sixty on deck."
            "We can take sixty."
            "Three of eight gun ports and two long nines in the fore."
            "French colors."
            "Let's go."
            I jumped up to run back first, but Gerome David pulled me behind him. I twisted to tear free of his grip, but Gerome David was two years older than I ... and much bigger.
            "Dog!" I cursed.
            "You're a dog's pisser!" Gerome David laughed and ran ahead.
            "You're what a dog's pisser pisses!"
            Brotherly insults failed as we saved our breath for running, reaching home only a pace apart.
            "Flea-bag!" Gerome David shouted. "Schooner, regular crew."
            "Stations!" Grandpa Barnaby barked, his deep, ragged voice urgent, but everyone had already run inside, Margaret Blythe in the lead. Margaret Blythe reached her swag first, then pushed to get out as the rest of us squeezed past her. My bag held four muskets, six pistols, and two swords, and my station was leeward on the starboard cliff. I pushed through the others and squeezed my way out of our door, almost knocked down by Great Aunt Pearl, Grandma's sister, as she pushed by to get to her swag. Outside, I sped along the worn path, bending low, keeping out of view. If this worked, then Gibbet Bay would again run red, and the countless ghosts that haunted our family's snare would have new companions. If the fleas spotted even one Wrecker hiding atop the cliffs surrounding Gibbet Bay, then our waylay, and our family business, would be ruined, and we'd be lucky to escape alive.
            Instantly I set my swag down, dropped onto my chest, and peered through the dried branches over my sturdy, musketball-scored log. Their taut sheets loomed closer: these flea-bags could be sand-fleas. In my wake, Wrecker shapes moved stealthily behind the thick brush that we'd piled and lashed down all around the top of our cliffs.
            Familiar muted sounds reassured me: Grandpa Barnaby, Kenneth Joel, and Father were uncovering and giving our big guns a last ram. Behind me, Elviena Joan's swag dropped with a clack of musket barrels, and Margaret Blythe squeezed into her station past its dry, crackling leaves, shielded behind two boulders, only ten feet from Elviena Joan. I couldn't see Gerome David on the far side of Gibbet Bay, but he was there, watching the flea-bag and readying his muskets. Both Margaret Blythe and Gerome David got more muskets than I, which I resented, but they were far better shots. I set out my muskets and pistols Bristol-fashion, in easy reach. Twenty minutes after the call to stations, every cannon's mouth had to be cleared, each fuse primed, aimed down at Gibbet Bay, and every Wrecker hidden and ready to waylay.
            I checked my muskets and pistols; each was kept ready all year round, oiled, polished, powdered, freshly-flinted, and with a ball rammed tight. I set my powder horn and extra shot right next to me where they wouldn't get lost in the chaos. My swords I set aside; if I needed swords, then we were keel-hauled.
            Half of the sails were furled by sailors scaling the tall masts as the schooner sailed closer to the narrow mouth of Gibbet Bay; definitely a sand-flea. If they were thinkers then they'd have lowered all of their sails and prepared to drop anchor outside of the mouth. My heart hammered: waylay-thrills filled every Wrecker heart. Our littlest children, now safely inside our house with Grandma Lydia, were doubtlessly dreaming of the day when they'd be out here with us, preparing to fight for our lives and our livelihood; waylays were the best days ever, or so I'd thought until I'd lost my twin brother.
            Dim, distant voices blew up on the warm summer wind, shouts from the sand-flea: they'd sailed within hearing range. I ducked low, cautious of the dried branches around me; a single snap of a twig could warn our target. We didn't want them expecting an attack, and I didn't need to see: the big guns, or better, Hammer or Fist, would signal the start of the waylay, and then all Hell would break loose.
            Nervous, impatient, I couldn't help peeking, and a wicked smile stretched my lips. Our flea-bag became a sand-flea, sailing slowly into Gibbet Bay as more of its sails were furled. I ducked low; the sailors working the high shrouds rode their masts just below our cliff-height. Carefully I glanced down through the dry underbrush; the deep, choppy waters splashed forty feet below our cliff-top, its current swirling eternally clockwise, rising and falling with the tide. Gibbet Bay was a small circular cleft in a high ridge, just big enough for a man-'o-war to carefully turn around in. Gibbet Bay's only natural feature was the Silver Sprinkle, a thin, pretty waterfall in the very back of the cliff, but none of the sailors were admiring it. Long ago, Grandpa Jack had hung a dozen corpses of sailors, killed in some ancient waylay, by nooses all around the rocky, wind-blown walls of Gibbet Bay; it gave the sand-fleas something to look at and think about rather than scrutinizing our cliff-tops and possibly seeing us. But those that could were looking past the Silver Sprinkle, through the thin, falling water, at the Cave of Riches.
            The Cave of Riches was our great temptation, the secret of our family's success. No real treasure had ever been buried inside it. Zachary William Wrecker, Grandpa Jack's grandfather, had forged our first treasure map to lure the Weathered Dolphin, a schooner whose captain had keel-hauled Great-grandpa Zachary, into Gibbet Bay. Zachary only had Hammer, but it split the Weathered Dolphin's keel, and he and his two brothers ambushed and slaughtered half of the crew before they had to flee, and when they came back, the surviving crew had long departed. The ruined Weathered Dolphin and all its valuable cargo lay sunk on the bottom of Gibbet Bay.
            "Weigh anchor!"
            The strange-voiced cry broke the expectant silence, marred only by the peaceful, squawking gulls. Water splashed loudly; the sand-flea had dropped anchor in the center of Gibbet Bay, the current turning the schooner clockwise, its pilot straining to keep its hull from Gibbet Bay's rough, rocky walls, which would score their vessel like teeth in an apple. Their aft swung around into the lee of the port cliff; I grinned widely and gripped my musket, eager to start the waylay.
            The loud 'chock' of Father's huge mallet startled the sailors; many looked up at the brush-hidden cliff-tops for the first time. The crash of Hammer falling onto its oak supports alarmed them, followed by the grinding crunch of an enormous weight rolling down a long wooden ramp, and suddenly Hammer burst through the thin brush, flying out over Gibbet Bay. A section of a colossal stone pillar from the ancient Roman ruins that once topped this cliff, Hammer was a perfectly round column of white marble, three feet thick and four feet long, a thousand pounds of massive stone hurtling out from the cliff-top into midair. Instantly Hammer plummeted.
            Sailors screamed. Hammer didn't strike center; Hammer collided just inside the aft starboard rail and punched through its splintered deck with a thunderous crash that shivered their whole ship. Seawater splashed up through its shattered core and the suddenly-yawning hole, showering its deck. Then the first gun blasted, followed by three more in quick succession. Thirty-seven cannons, each scavenged after successful waylays, ringed the top of our cliff, all hidden by brush and aimed down at Gibbet Bay. Father, Grandpa Jack, and Cousin Sidney were running along the ridge with torches, quickly aiming and firing each cannon. Timbers blasted into the air as sailors cried out or shrieked in pain. Many jumped overboard. Musket-fire mixed with the big guns, and Margaret Blythe screamed a screeching war-cry. Voices, Wreckers and victims, shouted through the sudden clouds of smoke drowned by explosions of gunpowder.
            I aimed my first musket at a sailor running across the deck, fired, and watched him topple; my heart warmed at my success. Instantly I reached for another musket. Grim delight filled me; killing a flea per shot was the greatest Wrecker boast, and I'd been trained to shoot since I could lift a musket. I spotted muzzle-fire through the smoke; some sailors were shooting up at us: shooters were our first targets.
            Everyone on deck was running, their muskets blazing, but we were shielded behind boulders and tree trunks, while all of their sailors lay exposed on deck. I blasted with all four of my muskets, and then grabbed my pistols, but clouds of black smoke filled Gibbet Bay. I couldn't target through smoke, so I hesitated. Gerome David and I guarded our flanks, Gibbet Bay's mouth back out to the sea, and our job was to make sure that no warners, sailors trying to escape by swimming, made it out of Gibbet Bay. I leaned forward to make sure that no warners were escaping, but jumped back as a musketball sang past my left ear. I fired both pistols into the smoke, then reloaded a musket, leaving my last four pistols unfired, ready for warners. I scanned the carnage for fleas and saw the great schooner already sinking fast: Hammer and thirty-seven cannonballs had holed it like pale cheese. Sailors splashed in the water like fish in a bucket, and our muskets fired ceaselessly all around the ridge.
            "I got one!" Elviena Joan cried joyfully, incongruous with her shrill, thirteen-year-old laughter.
            "Keep shooting!" Margaret Blythe shouted. "Kill them all!"
            I hated my sister Margaret, who called herself Bloody Blythe. Murder by ambush was the Wrecker's family business, practiced for almost a century, but we didn't have to enjoy it. More than once we'd found a weeping sailor shot apart so badly that we'd thought them shark-bait. They always begged for medicines or asked for us to send a last letter to some distant loved one. I'd always felt sad for those helpless mariners, but I didn't dare voice my hesitation: it wasn't Wrecker. Margaret Blythe loved to shoot them dead even while they were praying. But my first duty was to my family; if word of our waylays ever got out, then the only ships that would come here would be the Royal Navy.
            Gibbet Bay splashed, littered with bleeding bodies, broken timbers, and one fallen mast which a cannonball must've scored deeply enough to split. Their only unfurled sail hung shredded upon the foremast, brightly burning. At least twenty drenched sailors slogged up out of the water onto the lower stone stairs and fled into the Cave of Riches, darting inside for shelter. Gerome David fired a pistol and another sailor fell, but all of the dead man's fellows made it inside the dark cave. I rammed fresh powder and a new ball into my musket, pulled back my hammer and aimed, but by the time that my sights aligned, all of the fleas on the steps had vanished inside, though more were still foundering in the choppy waters; I aimed at one and fired. The sailor cried out, his scream cut off abruptly as he slipped beneath the surface.
            I spied three bodies beneath the water swimming for the mouth of Gibbet Bay. Angry that I'd already spent two of my pistols, I grabbed two of my four remaining pistols and took careful aim. I fired one but the shot went wild, so I aimed the other more carefully and fired, but the sailor was too deep; he flinched underwater as my ball bounced off him, but he kept swimming. Finally he surfaced for a breath; Gerome David fired, and a stream of gore spurt from the would-be warner's head.
            Another warner was slain by Gerome David before I grabbed my last two pistols and took aim. I waited until the last warner was almost out of Gibbet Bay, ignoring the musketball that ricocheted off the log by my elbow. Knowing that I was exposed, I leaned over until the last warner surfaced for air, and then I fired both pistols. Clouds of bitter smoke hid my target, but I heard his final scream.
            "They're charging!" Margaret Blythe cried. "Aim for the Trap!"
            I didn't have any rounds loaded, so I dropped my pistols and powdered my musket, rammed it packed, dropped in a musketball, and rammed it hard. By the time that I was loaded and aimed, fifteen sailors had charged out of the Cave of Riches and up the wide stone stairs only to reach the Trap, an exposed shelf, a wide ledge facing only sheer rock twenty feet below the top of the cliff. We used a long ladder to reach the Trap, but we always removed the ladder after each salvage. From the Trap, the only path upwards was a narrow ridge carved to look (from below) like stairs that went all the way to the top. We kids could scale that false stair to the ridge, moving slowly and carefully, but the soaked, sword-wielding sailors were trapped, each Wrecker firing at them as fast as we could reload. Some sailors tried to run back down to the safety of the Cave of Riches while others jumped off the ledge back into the water. I aimed at one running back down; those who jumped into the water would never make it back. They weren't even firing anymore; all of their powder was spent or soaked, so most of us Wreckers stood on our feet, firing at will.
            At least two sailors dashed safely back into the Cave of Riches, one of whom was wounded, his bare back streaming blood. Corpses filled the water, floating just under the surface. There were more fleas than we'd thought; at least eighty men had sailed into Gibbet Bay on an armed schooner, but Hammer, thirty-seven cannons, and fourteen of us, with sixty-three muskets and eighty-eight pistols, and little Hunter Jack, who was too young to shoot but liked to drop old cannonballs onto swimming sailors, had easily sent them to Davey Jones' locker. Our cannons had probably taken out most of the fleas; our waylay had caught them unprepared, and those who ran below decks to get their muskets were probably sliced to ribbons as cannon-shattered planks were blasted into flying shards, splinters as big as your hand, or drowned when the schooner sank. The rest of the sailors were mostly unarmed, easy targets, with nowhere to go except to try and swim out of the mouth of Gibbet Bay or climb the exposed steps to the Cave of Riches, which was a deathtrap.
            The Golden Twinkle existed only in the imaginations of those who came looking for buried treasure; inside the Cave of Riches lay only three large, empty chests, two skeletons, a few half-buried copper coins, and a poisoned bottle of rum, all arranged in a small pit to look like pirate treasure had once been buried there but was long ago ransacked. Grandma Agnes made the rum; she called it her hangover-proof grog, spiced with cinnamon and pepper, which hid the taste of the deadly belladonna berries which Grandma Agnes had us collect and squeeze every spring. It often ended the same when sailors took refuge in the Cave of Riches; they'd find the rum, pass it around, and fifteen minutes later they'd all be choking, turning green, and gasping their last breaths.
            The cracks of our muskets ceased. We'd won again. Cousin Sidney and Kenneth Joel cheered, and soon all of us were shouting for joy. Two fishing ships had already been waylaid this year. Now we'd sunk a valuable schooner, and it was only the end of summer. I cheered along with the others, but the bloody carnage below suddenly turned my stomach in a most un-Wreckerly way. My twin brother, Chad Mathew Wrecker, had died only two months ago at our last waylay, shot through his young heart. Although I was glad to avenge him, no waylay would bring him back; I was the first Wrecker to stop cheering.
            The desperate cry echoed up from the Cave of Riches, which was clearly visible behind the Silver Sprinkle. We all laughed. Olivia Frances fired a musketball into the cave; it kicked up dust and ricocheted against the inside wall, and Margaret Blythe fired a shot to match it, but Grandpa Barnaby shouted at both of them.
            "Muskets down! Respect parley!"
            Neither woman dropped their musket. Margaret Blythe lifted her powder horn with a grin and started to reload.
            "You ... in the cave!" Grandpa Barnaby shouted. "What do you want?"
             "To live, good master!" the voice pleaded. "Just let us go. We've no weapons, no money, just poor Christian souls not prepared for Heaven. Pray, let us go and we'll never return!"
            "Lying's a violation of parley!" Grandpa Barnaby shouted angrily. "Christians? I doubt if any of you've seen the inside of a church for years. Say your prayers, if Christians you be. Prepare yourselves, for by the honor of parley, I speak only truth: none escape Gibbet Bay."
            No reply came to this pronouncement of doom. In the silence, broken only by the gusty wind, a few chirping sparrows, and the sorrowful cries of distant gulls, I stared at Grandpa Barnaby admiringly; a true sea salt, Grandpa Barnaby had left the Wrecker clan for many years and gone to sea, wanting a ship of his own that we hadn't demolished into kindling. Eventually he'd returned, weary and disgusted, having never achieved his goal, a true corsair's Bosun, a man of the sea, but never a captain.
            Grandpa Barnaby nodded to Cousin Sidney, who smiled and jumped to. The hangover-proof grog would eventually take them out, but that could take hours or days. We'd have no signal, so we would have to stand guard over the cave's entrance night and day, and then finally go down ourselves, muskets loaded, to make sure that all of the fleas were dead. Cousin Sidney had a better way.
            Cousin Sidney took a small, recently-washed, sealed barrel of gunpowder which he'd thickly wrapped with dry rags and bound with a long rope. He measured out the rope exactly and tied its other end to a tree trunk at the top of the cliff right beside the Silver Sprinkle, and then he dug his fingers into a waiting bucket of oily bacon grease and pig-fat. He smeared the slimy, flammable mixture all over the dry rags. The rags soaked up the oil, and when he set a flame to the rags, they quickly blazed up. Finally, Cousin Sidney gave a great laugh, lifted the flaming powder-barrel over his head, took quick aim, and hurled it out over Gibbet Bay.
            We ducked for cover. The fiery powder barrel fell, sprung as its rope stretched taut, and swung all the way down, right inside the Cave of Riches. It didn't explode at once, as it sometimes did, especially when Cousin Sidney missed and it smashed against the rocks outside the cave, blasting and blackening only bare stone. The trapped sailors cried out and shouted fearfully, but none dared approach the flaming barrel. Only seconds passed; the wide wax seals containing the dangerous gunpowder inside the barrel quickly melted in the flames, exposing the explosive mixture. The ground sulfur, coal, and saltpeter detonated in a fireball that rocked the cliffs and deafened us, louder than any cannon-fire. Cousin Sidney cheered and grabbed his musket, aiming straight down at the cave mouth. Possibly the exploded cask had finished off the sailors, but soon the silence after the bang! was broken by loud coughing. Thick black smoke poured from the Cave of Riches, and suddenly a figure burst out, running for his life. He dove through the Silver Sprinkle into the corpse-strewn, bloody waters of Gibbet Bay. Six shots fired as he dove, but none seemed to hit him; he splashed in, dove deep, and his passage was instantly hidden by the flotsam of his ruined ship and dead mates. But he couldn't stay underwater forever; the schooner's deck had sunk beneath the surface, and little concealment and no protection was offered by the two remaining masts still poking up out of the water.
            Another sailor came staggering, choking and coughing, out of the Cave of Riches. He didn't make it past the landing; Elviena Joan and Grandma Agnes fired, and he collapsed onto the stone ledge into the splash of the Silver Sprinkle. Gerome David and several others fired their last rounds, and the barely-underwater would-be warner jerked and sank just past the floating topsails of the fallen mizzenmast. Then we all stood and looked down, watching for any movement not caused by the constant rocking of the sea.
            "Deathwatch!" Grandpa Barnaby shouted, and most of the elders dropped their muskets to their sides. Our waylay was over. Several started gathering weapons and repacking their swags, but Gerome David and Bloody Blythe reloaded and stood watching down their sights, searching for any sign of life. I didn't set my musket down but turned to look out at the wide, endless sea, and wondered what other lives were out there, normal lives where people didn't kill other people, anywhere but here. This was my first waylay without my dear twin brother; the first waylay that didn't delight me.
            An hour later, convinced that no survivors threatened us, Grandpa Jack sent me, Father, Gerome David, Margaret Blythe, and Hunter Jack to start the Sharking. Our rowboat, which we lowered down the cliff with the small winch, slipped onto the water. We lowered our long ladder and descended to the Trap atop the upper-stairs, stripping the sailor's corpses of all valuables and then kicking them off into the water. Margaret Blythe found a small coin-purse on one man and Hunter Jack found a good musket, and we collected several copper rings, knives, and a fancy sword even before we made it to the Cave of Riches. Ignoring the dead, Father and Gerome David went straight down, a pistol in each hand; Olivia Frances and Kenneth Joel were still watching from above, several loaded muskets ready, but they couldn't shoot inside the Cave of Riches. Sticking a pistol into his belt, Father pulled out a silver mirror, which he slowly held out before the mouth of the cave, examining everything that he could see before exposing himself.
            "Anyone alive?" Father called.
            No one replied, but that didn't prove anything. Father pocketed the mirror and drew his second pistol. He nodded to Gerome David, and then both of them jumped in front of the cave-mouth, each firing one pistol into the darkness inside. One long moment they stared, frozen, ready, and then they entered the cave. I turned away, looking at all of the dead sailors floating in the water, scanning for anything that might be valuable. The schooner's sunken prow was visible below the bloody water: The Scarlet Siren, its letters read. No one would ever know what became of it; a noble ship, soon to be our winter firewood. It seemed a great waste; I wondered what it'd be like to stand aboard a fast-sailing ship that wasn't a sunken wreck.
            Sharking is ugly; waylays attract sharks, so we have to haul away the dead as fast as possible. One by one we hooked and raised their corpses, and then pulled off their rings, necklaces, belts, vests, shoes, earrings; anything that we liked. Margaret Blythe sat in the back of the boat with two loaded pistols, eager to kill anything still alive. Hunter Jack, who was almost twelve, and Margaret Blythe kept pointing out exceptionally-nasty wounds, many of which Margaret boasted of having personally inflicted. Hunter Jack complained that he was big enough to shoot, but the recoil of every musket that we'd ever given him knocked him backwards, off his feet. After searching each body, we tied a hitch around one leg, and then we rowed into the surf outside the mouth of Gibbet Bay, trailing a line of twenty floating sailors on each trip. Gibbet Bay was part of a great inlet that led nowhere, so only ships seeking the Golden Twinkle ever came here. A mile outside of Gibbet Bay we untied the dead bodies, leaving the bloody rope in the water so that the rocking sea would scrub it clean, and we rowed back.
            Elviena Joan sat in Gerome David's station at the top of the mouth, keeping watch for other flea-bags; rotten luck it would be to have a man-'o-war sail up while we sat adrift in a rowboat with a fish-line of corpses. We didn't expect any more visitors; only one Lure was sent out at a time. If news of our waylays ever got out, even if we escaped the vengeful sailors, we'd be lucky to survive. We'd have to flee into the hills, and months might pass before we could come back home, and we'd never get to waylay again.
            Sharking helped conceal us; accustomed to feeding here, sharks frequented Gibbet Bay, and the local fishermen preferred safer waters. The sun was setting by the time that we released the last of our floating dead to the tide. Under darkening skies we rowed back, wary of sharks; Gibbet Bay would remain pink for days. There were undoubtedly corpses still trapped inside its sunken hull, but it was too late to start the Salvage, and they weren't going anywhere. We tied our rowboat before the Cave of Riches, then washed our many new prizes, and ourselves, in the cascading Silver Sprinkle. I washed longer than ever, but I still felt dirty.

End of Chapter 1