The little raft danced on the waves like a dandelion seed on the wind. It was picked up and tossed down and hurled sideways through the water. Five pairs of hands clung on to the splintered beams. Five pair of eyes were clenched shut against the lashing water. Five yells sounded over the noise of the storm as the raft crested a wave and plunged into nothingness, then the voices were abruptly cut off as the water closed over them.
And when the raft finally scraped onto a sandy beach, five utterly bedraggled figures staggered ashore.
“Get her out of the water!” one of them yelled. His coat was dark with water and so ripped it was impossible to tell its original shape or colour, but the epaulettes gave his rank as captain. He grabbed the back of the raft. The other four joined him and together they heaved the battered wooden raft up, above the high tide mark and out of reach of the waves.
The captain’s name was James Webb. Heedless of the raging storm that whipped the sand around, he crouched down by the raft and ran his hand over the splintered wood. It was only a few feet across, but still recognisably a piece of the bow of the HMS Adventure. The rest of his beloved ship was probably at the bottom of the ocean now, along with most of his crew. He stood up and brushed the sand off his hands.
“No, sir,” said Oscar Williams, the midshipman. He sucked his finger. “Except a splinter. But it’s fine.”
“Excellent,” said the captain. “We survived the storm. Look, it’s dying down.”
And just like that, the rain stopped, the storm clouds drifted away and the sun broke through. They all looked around to take in their surroundings.
“Probably a small island,” said Lieutenant Daisy Woods, indicating the beach which curved away on either side of them.
“Surrounded by a lagoon,” said Lieutenant Commander Harry Jones, who was staring out to sea. He turned around and regarded the dense jungle that came almost down to the beach. Above it, they could just make out the steep sides of a mountain, the top of which was shrouded in cloud. “It’s probably volcanic.”
“Excellent,” said the captain. “Commander Burton, any ideas as to the identity of this island?”
Commander Emma Burton crouched down and began drawing in the wet sand with a finger. “We were three days out from Tahiti, heading west with a fresh breeze behind us. The storm blew us north for a day, then we were on the raft for several hours. At a guess, I’d say we were here.” She prodded a patch of sand, indicating a position northeast of Fiji and northwest of Tahiti. “No known islands in that area, captain. We may be the first ones here.”
Captain James Webb’s eyes glittered. “An uncharted island!”
A ragged cheer went up.
“What are your orders, captain?” said Midshipman Williams.
“Our raft won’t get us back to Tahiti, or on to Fiji,” said Captain Webb. “Perhaps the navy will send a ship to search for us. If not, we must build a bigger raft, with a sail, and rescue ourselves. We need to find shelter, food, and building materials! Let’s explore this island!”
Commander Burton sprang to her feet and saluted. “Aye, sir!”
They stepped off the beach and into the jungle, and immediately found themselves in a dense, humid world of green. The sound of the waves disappeared behind them and the air was full of the sounds of shrieking birds and rustling leaves.
“Should we split up to cover more ground?” said Lieutenant Woods. She was in front, beating a way through the tangled vines with a stick.
“Stay together,” said Captain Webb. “We don’t know how big this island is, and what dangers are lurking in the interior.”
The ground rose in front of them and soon they were clambering up twisted ladders of tree roots. In places they sank up to their knees into gloopy mud.
“Captain!” Lieutenant Commander Jones had stopped. He held out a handful of mud, from which came the unmistakable glint of gold. “It’s a doubloon!”
“Where did you find that?” said Captain Webb.
“It was just there!”
Lieutenant Woods poked the ground with her stick. “I don’t think there are any others.”
Lieutenant Commander Jones put the muddy coin into his pocket with a smug grin.
“Evidently we’re not the first to reach this island after all,” said Captain Webb. “Let’s keep going. And keep an eye out for any signs of people.”
After half an hour of squelching through mud and fighting their way through vegetation, the trees began to thin and the ground grew firm again. At last they emerged from the jungle. Ahead stretched a slope of cracked rock, steep as a cliff. A tattered band of cloud still clung to the very top of the mountain.
“No other islands in sight, captain,” said Lieutenant Commander Jones, who was scanning the horizon with a hand above his eyes.
“And no sign of a stream either,” said Commander Burton. “We’re going to need fresh water soon.”
“Let’s climb to the top,” said Captain Webb. “There may be something on the other side of the island!”
Midshipman Williams groaned. His face was very red and sweat was dripping from his brow. “Do we have to climb up all the way?”
“That’s an order, midshipman!”
“Come on, Oscar,” said Lieutenant Woods. She patted Midshipman Williams’s shoulder and then leaped ahead, scrambling nimbly from rock to rock. By the time she reached the summit, the clouds that hung around it were nearly gone. Only a thin fog remained. It softened the sharp edges of the rocks and decreased visibility to a few hundred yards. She sat down and let her legs dangle. Midshipman Williams was last up, clutching a stitch in his side.
“Curse this fog,” muttered Lieutenant Commander Burton. “We still can’t see the other side of the island.”
“Maybe it isn’t an island,” said Lieutenant Woods.
“It could be a very long, very narrow peninsula,” said Lieutenant Commander Jones.
“Part of a huge continent,” said Midshipman Williams.
“That has been discovered by the Spanish and kept secret by them,” said Captain Webb. “So no one else will come and take their gold!”
They stared at each other in awe. Very slowly, the fog lifted as the sun burnt through the clouds.
It was an island.
It was shaped like a cone, and they were standing at its highest point. A thin strip of sandy beach ran around the entire island. The water of the lagoon was dazzlingly blue, and the darker waves of the Pacific loomed beyond the reef.
“What’s that?” Lieutenant Commander Jones asked, pointing at a dark shape that was bobbing on the water.
“It’s a ship!” said Commander Burton.
“The navy found us!” said Midshipman Williams. “We’re saved! Hooray!”
Captain Webb shook his head. He looked grim. “That’s not a navy ship. I’d recognise that black sail and that rigging anywhere. That’s the Grim Unicorn.”
“Oh no!” Commander Burton clapped a hand to her mouth.
“What?” said Midshipman Williams.
“It’s a pirate ship,” said Commander Burton. “It belongs to Brownbeard, the most dreaded pirate to ever sail the seven seas!”
“We fought him half a dozen times,” Lieutenant Commander Jones explained in a whisper. “But he always got away.”
He took the muddy doubloon out of his pocket, and added, “I bet this is part of his treasure! He must be using this island as a hideout!”
“Oh,” said Midshipman Williams. “But we’ll never be able to build a good raft if there are pirates. They’ll see us and -”
“Hush, I have an idea,” said Captain Webb. “We’re going to steal the Grim Unicorn, from right underneath Brownbeard’s nose!”
He crouched down and the other four followed suit, looking on with interest as the captain began to move around rocks to make a battle plan.
“The Grim Unicorn is out here in the lagoon. It has a crew of around twenty. Most of them will go ashore in a rowing boat, here. They might make a fire or head into the jungle to search for food or water. Maybe one or two will stay by the boat. That means we can easily get our hands on that rowing boat. Then we row out to the Grim Unicorn, overpower the remaining pirates, and the ship is ours!”
Commander Burton frowned. “Captain, there are so many things that can go wrong with this plan… We don’t know that they’ll come ashore!”
Captain Webb waved away her concerns. And indeed, when they looked out towards the Grim Unicorn again, they saw a little rowing boat detach itself from the ship and head towards the beach. The captain shifted a few of his rocks around.
“We hide here,” he said, pointing, “in the jungle, where we can overlook the beach. Then we’ll watch them for a bit, see what they do, and adapt the plan if necessary. Everybody ready?”
“Aye, sir!” said four voices in unison.
Going down was easier than going up. The jungle was not so dense and the mud not so deep on this side of the island. Midshipman Williams still managed to get his foot stuck in a snarl of vines, and it took the combined efforts of Commander Burton and Lieutenant Commander Jones to pull him free.
As they approached the edge of the jungle, Captain Webb motioned for them to stop.
“I can hear voices!” he said, his voice barely more than a whisper. He pushed aside a few branches. “There they are!”
“I count seventeen, captain,” said Commander Burton. “And they don’t look like they’re heading into the jungle anytime soon.”
Captain Webb turned to Lieutenant Woods. “You’re the fastest runner. We need you to cause a diversion.”
The captain, the commander, the lieutenant commander and the midshipman crouched down in the undergrowth, while Lieutenant Woods made her way along the edge of the jungle, swiftly and silently. When she judged she had gone far enough, she pushed through the trees and emerged onto the beach. The seventeen pirates were busy preparing a large bonfire and hadn’t noticed her yet. Well, that would soon change.
She cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “Oh no! Pirates!”
Seventeen heads shot up.
“Whatever shall I do now?”
Seventeen pirates turned around to face her.
“Perhaps if I run I can make it back to the fleet in time, and warn the admiral that the dread pirate Brownbeard is here!”
She turned and ran, whooping as she did, and seventeen pirates pounded across the sand after her.
“Perfect!” said Captain Webb. He hurried down to the rowing boat with the other three. Together they pushed it into the shallows. Captain Webb remained standing and held the little boat in place while the others climbed in and slotted oars into oarlocks.
“And the best part is, Brownbeard will be stranded on this deserted island,” said Captain Webb happily.
“Where’s Daisy?” piped up Midshipman Williams. There was no sign of anyone on the beach.
“Lieutenant Woods will be here soon,” said Captain Webb. “She probably went into the jungle to shake them off.”
“You don’t think anything has gone wrong?” said Commander Burton.
Just then, a group of pirates emerged from the jungle. They were shouting and jeering, and in their midst was a slim figure wearing the tattered remains of a navy coat.
“The admiral of the fleet, I presume?” The biggest pirate made a mock bow towards the little group by the rowing boat. He had a huge beard and an eye patch that together obscured most of his face.
Captain Webb stepped back onto the sand. “Brownbeard! You won’t escape this time!”
Brownbeard let out a howl of laughter. “You forget I have a ship and a crew! You’ve got nothing, Captain Webb! Oh yes, I recognise you! What happened to your HMS Adventure, did you sink her?”
The pirates doubled up with laughter. Lieutenant Woods pulled herself free from her captors, but before she had taken two steps, Brownbeard grabbed her by the arm.
“Not so fast!” He turned back to the captain. “I’ve already caught one of your remaining crew members. I’ll get the other three as well, and you! And then you’ll all walk the plank!”
Midshipman Williams was hunched down in the rowing boat. “What are we going to do?”
“We’re outnumbered!” said Commander Burton.
“I’ve got a plan,” said Captain Webb. “Lieutenant Commander Jones, did you say this island was volcanic?”
“Aye, sir. The composition of the soil and the type of rock indicate that -”
“Great! One of us needs to get back to the summit. You’d better do that, Lieutenant Commander Jones, since you know all about volcanoes.”
He didn’t have time to explain the rest of his plan.
At that moment, they heard a shout, and turned to see a woman in a summer dress coming up the beach towards them. “Emma, are you there?”
“Oh no,” groaned Commander Burton.
“Who’s that?” said Midshipman Williams.
The woman saw them and gave a friendly little wave. She came right down to the edge of the water, and looked from the group by the rowing boat to Lieutenant Woods and the pirates, and back again.
“Are you playing with your raft?” she said. “But what’s Daisy doing over there with all those sticks?”
“They’re pirates,” Lieutenant Woods called back. “I’ve been captured.”
“And we’ve got to rescue her,” said Commander Burton in a rush. “Please mum, we’re almost done.”
“It’s time for dinner, Emma,” said the woman.
“You can come back and play afterwards. Oh hello Oscar, I didn’t see you there.”
Midshipman Williams gave a shy smile.
Captain Webb kicked a stone. “But we hadn’t even gotten to the good part yet. The volcano was going to erupt, and then there’d be a rock slide, and then the monkeys! And we were going to have quicksand!”
“That sounds very nice, James, but Emma is going to have dinner first. Perhaps you had all better come, I’m sure your parents will be out looking for you too, soon.”
“Oh all right.”
“Can I be captain next time?” asked Commander Burton.
“No,” said Captain Webb shortly. “Come on, help me get this out of the water.”
Lieutenant Woods carefully disentangled herself from the pirates. Then she, Lieutenant Commander Jones, Midshipman Williams, Captain Webb and Commander Burton dragged the rowing boat onto the beach, where it turned into a little raft with the HMS Adventure scratched clumsily into one of the planks. And Daisy, Harry, Oscar, James and Emma headed home.