“Stand up!” A bandit marched down the steps into the cabin. “You two are coming with me!” He dragged both of them up to the top.
“Just stay quiet; let me handle this,” Ferdinand whispered. John William nodded. He was too frightened to speak. The deck crawled with river pirates and bandits with soured, drunken scowls on their faces.
“Push them overboard! We have no use for them, now!” The bandits cheered as John William and Ferdinand were pushed onto a thick plank of wood sticking out over the side of the boat.
“Wait!” One of the river pirates stepped forward with his chest out. “That boy is the princess’s friend. He could be worth something, Victor!” he bellowed with an extra deep voice. He certainly looked tough enough; with a chiseled face, broad frame, and big muscles. Even his slicked back, pony-tailed hair looked strong to john William. He began to feel a glimmer of hope.
“Nonsense! He is of no use to us.” The stout, vicious looking badger pressed a blade into John William’s back. “Move, boy!” He let out a malicious laugh and glared at Ferdinand. “I love to cook hoppers. They make a tasty stew.” He moved the blade over to Ferdinand’s plump belly and twisted his whiskers between his fingers. “Be careful you don’t want to fall into this blade; it would make a terrible mess.”
John William inched forward, watching the rushing water beneath him.
“This is the princess’s betrothed! They are to be married when they are old enough!” Ferdinand blurted. He shut his eyes tightly, expecting to be prepped for a rotund river pirate’s stew at any moment. When nothing happened he gave John William a nudge.
John William stared at the hopper with his mouth gaped open. “Yes, yes, she is my, um…,” he stuttered. Ferdinand rolled his eyes.
“Look at him! He’s just a pup! I’ll bet he’s never even tickled a dame’s fancy.” The deck erupted with laughter.
“You see? He will fetch us a fine price; almost as much as the princess, herself!” insisted the river pirate. He bumped Victor off to the side and pulled them off the plank.
“You better be right; or you’ll be the one on this plank… and you can be certain it will be my blade in your back,” Victor sneered, exposing his jagged fangs. “Careful with that defiant tone of yours; it has been a while since I have broken a man’s spirit! I’m about due for a river rat body part; something special… perhaps an insubordinate tongue for my collection.” Victor squeezed the pirate’s jaw, leaving an imprint of his long, dirty claws on his face. “I’m not interested in feeding stowaways or ungrateful scrubs.”
“Well then, don’t feed them!” One of the bandits shouted.
“Put them to work! They can have my job!” A river pirate sat back with his feet up and played a festive melody on his mandolin. The rest of the ship danced in celebration and sloshed their mugs of rum together.
“What a group of goofs,” Ferdinand mumbled under his breath and rolled his eyes.