WIP: A Nightingale’s Wing Chapter One: The Winter’s Tale

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you have not already done so, or just want to refresh your memory of the past, you can read chapter zero of this WIP right here. Otherwise, enjoy the next chapter!]

There are those kind of days, you know, when you wake up with the sun caressing your cheek, nudging you awake gently, where breakfast seems like the greatest thing that could possibly happen in the morning. A day where your aches and pains of being older are not accompanying you, deciding instead to take a holiday for the time being, leaving you with the feeling of being young once more, if only for a short time, and you are surrounded by friends that you trust and family that knows you.

This was NOT one of those days.

There was no sun in this snow storm, no sunshine caressing his cheek. Breakfast was a fantasy he had while hurrying to his post after sleeping later than he’d wanted (Thereon liquor can have that effect). His aches and pains were accompanying him as if vacation were as much a fantasy as his breakfast, and he was surrounded by the biggest crew of numbskulls he’d ever had the displeasure of serving aboard a ship with.

“Fletch, bring the number five boiler online! And before you ask, I don’t give two cloudy damns if there’s a roper sleeping in there or not, you light a fire under it or I’ll light a fire under you!” Maarc, unsure if Fletch said “Yes, sir” or “On my way” or “Piss off”, made his way to the regulator to re-check the gauges. Captain Nightingale was ordering more altitude, and that can’t be accomplished without more steam.

Glancing at the water reservoir gauges, he felt his stomach tighten a bit. Delvis oversaw the filling of the water tanks at Presben Heights Air Docks before they left. He remembered seeing him climb the water tower before he passed out, but he also remembered drinking shot-to-shot with him just hours before in the pub. Thinking harder, he didn’t see Delvis at mealtime this morning. All the thinking made his head throb with pain.

Maarc tried to shake off the headache and hangover from all the drinking from the night before. Walking to the center of the room, he reached up and pulled a periscope from the ceiling. He needed a better understanding of their circumstances, and there was no better way of understanding this (other than being on deck) than the periscope. The device, installed without the captain’s knowledge, let him see with his own eyes just how much danger the ship was in.

Looking about, he saw the colors of the Black Mast, a notorious pirate ship helmed by Captain Robert Arjhowahn. He was famous for doing the one thing that most sane pirates avoid: Good Captain Robert plundered ships from Her Majesty’s service in their own protected trade lanes. Maarc knew that he had to have heard the rumors about the payroll and tax tariff shipment moving this week. No doubt, Robert’s spies in the local ports kept him aware of which ships moved where, setting his sights, rather correctly, upon our ship. Unfortunately, there were two things that his spies failed to tell him.

The first being that the ship carrying the payroll was the H.M.S. Indefatigable, the fastest ship in the fleet, loaded or empty.

The second being that they knew he was coming.

*****

Robert was tired. He was tired of shouting. Apparently, that wasn’t getting him anywhere. He was tired of seeing the ass end of this imperial ship, especially at this distance. They were gaining altitude, and this wasn’t going to make things easier, either. It looked like it was time for a game of charades.

“Tillman! Get your ass up here!” Calling out the boiler chief while midair during a pursuit may not be the smartest thing he had done on this trip, but at this point, it couldn’t hurt. Walking to the starboard-side railing, he leaned across and gazed at the sharp coastal rocks along the shoreline they were following.

Tillman, covered in soot, sweat and reeking of smoke and steam, ran to his captain breathless. He had wasted no time following the captain’s orders. “Yes, sir, you wanted me?”

“Technically, I originally wanted a Thereon boiler genius with a grudge against the empire, but unfortunately, when I was hiring on the sky dock all those years ago, I got you. But, yes, I did call you up here.” Captain Robert pointed forward at the ship which was gaining altitude and distance from his ship. “Do you know what I want that ship to do, Tillman?”

Tillman looked confused for a moment, then answered, “Um, you want them to surrender, Captain?”

Captain Robert dropped his head and shook it. “It’s exactly as I thought. No, Tillman, that’s not actually what I want.” Looking back to Tillman, he said, “You see? It’s a breakdown in communication. I can fix that, though.” Moving quickly, Robert grabbed a nearby roper and threw him overboard. Screaming and confused, the roper plummeted through the light mist downward toward his inevitable end. “So, Tillman, what do think I want that ship to do now?”

*****

There are those kinds of days, you know, when you wake up early and, while scouting the deck, you catch a glimpse of a pirate ship that wants to ground your airship before breakfast. It’s a day where you realize that you haven’t smelled fresh gunpowder or hot steamed brass fittings recent enough for your personal happiness, but you can see that its time has come. You know, one of those days where you are surrounded by the crew you respect and trust, waging war and thrusting violence against those that would breach the peace of the skies.

This was DEFINITELY one of those days.

As Captain Sylver Nightingale gave her orders to the ropers overhead and listened out for calls from the crow’s nest, she allowed herself a slight grin. These were the days she looked forward toward during her training in the academy. The skies of the Imperial Trade Company have been under a relentless attack from pirates and other unsavory types for the past few years, gradually getting worse after her father’s death aboard Sylver’s Lining.

“Man overboard on the Black Mast!” Turning, Sylver acquired her spyglass and turned to appraise the situation. Sure enough, it appeared that one of the ropers had fallen from the ship, while Captain Robert was pointing at him and discussing something with a dirty-looking man on the port deck. He was their boiler chief, probably.

Returning the spyglass to its case on her belt, she removed her father’s pocket watch from her left breast pocket and pressed the button on the winding mechanism. The lid sprang open instantly revealing the precision of the gear work, springs, and assemblies that made the whole such a work of art. The embedded compass, however, was her focus. Using it, she turned the wheel another three degrees north by northwest. Having a pirate after her cargo was no reason to alter course or, heaven forbid, fall behind schedule.

Being the youngest captain ever brought into the service, there was a lot of pressure to perform more than simply adequately. There were those in the Commodore’s Council that let her know, under no uncertain terms, that there was an unspoken expectation for her to accomplish extraordinary things. For her, she felt more than the weight of her command; she felt that weight under the shadow of her father’s legacy.

There were no shortages of tales of the great Captain Augustus Nightingale. His spectacular maiden voyage as captain of the H.M.S. Berringer where he, with no backup or escort ships, brought in three pirate vessels to account for their crimes within two weeks of their departure was heard frequently. Also told over many a round in the air dock lounges was the tale of how he set fire to a mannequin in a bright green dress to confuse and throw off a ship assisting in a rebel blockade to make it past and bring much-needed supplies to closed-off areas.

She never minded hearing those stories, though. His most popular story, however, was also her least favorite: The death of Captain Augustus Nightingale. No matter where you heard the story (or one of its many more elaborate versions), it was common for someone in the lounge to buy a drink for everyone and offer up a toast to the spirit of The Captain in an almost religious way that would evoke images of his spirit flying beside other ships, when she knew damn well that he was gone as soon as his ship touched the ground.

She really didn’t remember much about her father. She could remember him as seeming larger than life in his uniform, coming in and laughing as loudly as the winds he mastered. She didn’t remember the stern disciplinarian the other men spoke of; she remembered gentle hands and a confidence that everything was going to be all right. He was gone a lot, being a ship’s captain. By the time she started her studies at The Royal Airship Officer’s Training Academy, his visits had become less frequent due to the Admiral’s Council keeping him out for longer and longer durations. She hadn’t seen her father in over a year when the news of his death came to her from her mother.

A hand came to rest on her shoulder, breaking her reprieve. Turning to look, Maarc stood there with his oversized wrench resting on his shoulder. She honestly felt relieved when she found out that one of the candidates for the position of Boiler Chief was not only Thereon but had once served with her father as well. “Yes?”

“We might have a small, well, small-ish… um, I mean, it’s not like a tragic circumstance or anything, but, well…” he stammered. Captain Sylver didn’t like his tone or demeanor at all.

“Spit it out, Maarc. We’re over an unfriendly coast, I have a mad pirate on my heels, the temperature is dropping, and as much as I would like to be out of his sight by now, we’re not. So, what is the problem?” Sylver was known for her appreciation of brevity.

“We’re running a little low on water.” Maarc replied.

“How low?”

“Well, if we drop the drinkable into the mains and turn on the reclamation vents, I’d say we can go another twenty minutes or so before needing water.”

Twenty minutes wasn’t enough time to put them out of sight of Mad Captain Robert and the Black Mast and sitting the air ship down in the shallows of the ocean made them sitting ducks; not only for the mad captain but from any unsavory people from the shore within shot length. Sylver looked up at Maarc and asked, “Why are we so low on water?”

“Well, Cap’n, you see, after last night’s festivities at the air dock, we were supposed to take on eight thousand gallons by the writ of the dock master. Delvis was supposed to take the writ to the dock master, lower the main line from the tower on the dock to the ship, and then fill ‘er up.”

“So, what happened?” the captain inquired.

“Not sure, Cap’n, but I know he made it to the top of the tower. I watched him climb it myself.” Maarc looked a bit sheepish as well as a bit confused.

“So, then what?”

“I went to sleep.”

He passed out, she thought. Closing her eyes, she reminded herself ten times slowly that he was one of the best Thereon Boiler Chiefs in the service. “Where is Delvis now?”

“Honestly?” answered Maarc, a bit of a grin on his dark-tanned Thereon face. “Probably still asleep on top of that tower.” The opening of the captain’s eyes and her obvious look of displeasure erased the smile on his face.

He watched her as he had watched her a dozen or more times before. Her own personal gears were turning, the steam was working, and the answer she needed would be there at any moment. Turning from Maarc, Captain Sylver ordered, “Ropers! To me!”

Scrambling like nimble spiders in webs, the ropers of the ship came gliding in quickly around her. The first there was Janden Curze, another Thereon, though nothing like Maarc.

Therea was divided by war into Northern and Southern Therea. Maarc was from Southern Therea, a land of harsh climates and peoples, where war was just another part of life for them. Northern Therea, however, was a land of politicians and intellectuals. The two halves of the countries had been separated for so long that they were easy to differentiate, even from a distance. Janden was their group leader (if, indeed, a group of drunken deck scoundrels respected any other leader save for the one that pays them).

“Yes, Captain?” Janden asked.

“Janden, take the others, go below, and begin weaving rope nettings that will hold our empty water barrels,” she explained. “Make certain that the riggings can hold their weight if they were filled to the brim with gold. Leave the tops open.”

Though it was probably the worst analogy to give (seeing how so many of the ropers grinned greedily at the thought of barrels full of gold), it seemed to be effective. The ropers headed below, rolled up the barrels and began the work of creating nettings that would hold them individually.

“How long do you need the swing line to be, Captain?” asked Janden, looking up from his work.

“I need at least forty feet. Fifty would be better but do what you can.”

Sylver turned to see Maarc headed back down below, probably to the boiler room. She never had to explain her plans to him; it was always like he knew what she was doing as she did it. Looking through her spyglass behind her, she noticed her lead on Captain Robert had not increased, especially since they stopped climbing.

“Oh, and Janden?” Captain Sylver lowered her spyglass and grinned. “There’s one more thing that I would like you to do, as it is one thing that I, myself, cannot physically accomplish.”

*****

Something was wrong. Captain Robert studied the rear hull of the H.M.S. Indefatigable, a ship that had already started carving out its own legend in the fleet. She wasn’t damaged. He had been pursuing her since shortly after she left the air docks at Presben Heights and hadn’t lost sight of her since. She was obviously faster than his ship, as much as he hated to admit it. He couldn’t even credit Tillman; that man did well to keep the ship from going up in flames.

Robert did that once. It was a long time ago, and the details of the evening’s activities elude him even now, but he could still distinctly remember understanding that a captain, especially those like Captain Augustus Nightingale, went down with their ship. He remembered knowing that the ship was going to go down, and he still remembers trying to set the ship ablaze on its way down.

Years ago, he was first mate on the pirate vessel Blasphemous. He crawled from the wreckage of the ship, Captain Kiplan’s sword in his hand. That bastard tried to abandon ship, so he had helped him make it to the ground faster than his crew. He ran to the helm and had every intention of going down with that ship.

There was one problem, though. It was ugly, almost inglorious in its unfolding. The ship did crash, but he did not die. The ship’s boilers held together long enough to set it down hard. Hell, most of the crew survived their former captain. They abandoned ship once grounded, however. They ran to the woods while he stood there, eyes to the heavens, watching Augustus becoming an angel; no, he was becoming a god.

Sylver’s Lining fell, plummeting downward. One by one, the escape dinghies, their little balloons carrying them down slowly and safely, made their way to the skies. They were of no importance, because he knew that Augustus wouldn’t be among them. He watched as the ship changed direction, coming closer and closer, until realization stuck.

Augustus planned to bury Sylver’s Lining into the Blasphemous.

Now he understood. Planting his ship into ours prevented us from gathering equipment and guns and using them to kill his crew. Augustus didn’t realize that our men were already long gone, having noticed their roper’s flares earlier, knowing that many more imperial airships were on their way.

It was no longer about principle, anyway. It was about glory, a glory that Kiplan’s shit ship had cheated him of while he stood powerless, watching another man achieve it. The ship was much larger to him, now. Hissing and steaming, smoking and screaming, Sylver’s Lining came at the Blasphemous with a rage much like that of a scorned woman.

To be honest, he thought, I was really standing too close to the wreckage. But what could one do when he, alone, was the single witness to the birth of a god, a captain that would transcend his body and his ship?

It was only in the last moments before impact that Robert could clearly make out the image of Augustus, gripping the rudder wheel like a mad man and pushing the steam release handle so hard it was bending under his force. His eyes were locked on their target, unmoving and unwavering. It was then that it happened.

Captain Augustus Nightingale lifted his gaze and stared Robert straight in the eyes.

Robert, bundling himself in the cold, laughed a little, a nervous chuckle. Those eyes always unnerved him. Sometimes, when he slept, he would still have dreams of those eyes. He would always wake in a cold sweat, as if he had seen the end of the world and somehow managed to live through it.

A moment later, Sylver’s Lining buried itself completely into the wreckage of the Blasphemous. Fire and smoke, steam and heat, flame and sand, all came exploding from the wreckage. Something stuck his left cheek hard enough to send him backwards and into the sand.

Rising slowly, Robert moved his hand and felt a piece of metal embedded in his cheekbone just under his eye. Pulling hard, he yanked loose the piece of debris from the explosion and examined it.

It was… a star.

A single silver star, it was the sign of command aboard imperial fleet ships. That bastard tried to kill me in the middle of his ascension to godhood. He took a moment of his time, that time which was more precious than all of the gold of the empire and used it to try to kill me before dying inside that monstrous inferno of a crash.

You may never love your enemies, but you have to respect the hell out of the good ones.

Movement at the rear of the H.M.S. Indefatigable broke his reverie, much to his disdain. To make matters worse, as he put his spyglass to his eye just above its scar, all he saw was a Thereon. ‘He’s a roper, probably, judging from his attire. Walking on the poop deck along the rear of the…’ No, he stopped. ‘What in the hell is he…wait…’

Lowering his spyglass, his shaking hands returned it to his belt case. Sweat formed on his brow as his face changed hue from the pink from the cold winds to the red of a man whose boilers had finally been lit from within.

“Deck hands!” screamed Robert above the howling cold northern winds. “Make fast and roll out the forward deck gun!” As the men scrambled to complete their captain’s orders, he looked on to the display still unfolding in front of his eyes.

“It looks like one of their men is pissing into our sails. Let’s remind them of just who they are dealing with.”

******

The ropers were finishing up their ties when the call came from the crow’s nest: Good Captain Robert was wheeling out his deck cannon. They were only barely in range, and it would take a full coal bucket of luck to hit them in these windy, snowy conditions. No sane captain would waste shot under such circumstances.

However, thought Sylver, we’re talking about an insane captain that just got his ship pissed on. That kind of man would do anything. Turning, she saw Maarc stick his head up from below. “Are we ready?”

“Yes, Cap’n” said Maarc, “so long as you’re ready to get that water real soon.”

“You’ll get your water, Maarc. Just be ready to close off and redirect the furnace vents on my order.” Patting her single-shot pistol, Maarc nodded and returned to his station. She heard him screaming at Alex, another boiler worker that had graduated along with Sylver, not to be ‘touching things she obviously didn’t understand.’

Turning the rudder ever-so-slightly to port, toward the ocean, she waited for the magic moment. She pulled her flintlock from her belt and waited. It was no longer a matter of “if”, it was now only a matter of “when”.

******

Re-tying his sash about his waist, Janden smiled, seeing all the activity his relieving had on the men of the other ship. I guess it was good for morale, he thought. Looking about, he made sure that no one else was in his area. Once confident, he pulled a small pouch from his pocket and retrieved from it a rather handsome, if not small, spyglass. Extending it outward, he brought the lens up to his eye to see the look on Good Captain Robert’s face after having his ship pissed on by a roper.

Smiling. He was smiling. Of course, that probably was because he was standing beside a rather large deck cannon which, for all intents and purposes, was aimed directly at Janden. Captain Robert then spoke, and before Janden could try to translate the movements of Robert’s lips from so far away, the cannon erupted.

There was a pop, followed by a thunderous explosion somewhere behind him, as the ship lurched to its port side, dropping altitude quickly. Trying to catch his grip quickly, his hand slipped a bit and the spyglass went tumbling overboard.

******

Captain Robert could hardly believe his eyes. He fired one shot, trying to pluck that damn roper from the backside of that ship and ended up clipping it in its port hull. Apparently, that area must have been near the boiler works, seeing as how the side of the ship exploded, smoke started boiling from its wound, and it began to fall, rather quickly, from the skies.

A smaller, timid-looking bespectacled man approached Robert. Boxyr Andrews was famous aboard the Black Mast, but not for the reasons one might imagine. Once, years ago after the maiden voyage of the ship, Robert gunned down and forced the landing of a cargo ship. Robert wasn’t then, and still isn’t now, prone to taking prisoners. That day, however, after killing most of the men on the cargo ship, he came upon Boxyr. With a fresh flintlock in Robert’s hand, everyone knew that it was the end for this timid-looking man.

Time seemed to stand still as Captain Robert pointed the flintlock at the little man who sat on his knees with his eyes closed, trembling at the knowledge of his imminent demise. Suddenly, without warning, Robert ordered his men to bind the man and take him to the holds of the ship as his prisoner.

Over time, Boxyr came to be a part of the crew, eventually making his way to being first mate of one of the most notorious pirate air ships in the modern world. He didn’t accomplish that by being cruel or tyrannical, nor was it completed by deception, persuasion, or backstabbing. No, Boxyr Andrews, the first, last, and only prisoner of the Black Mast, achieved this goal by doing one thing. Boxyr Andrews always did as he was told by a man who would not tolerate anything less.

“You don’t look happy, sir” said Andrews, his hushed tone almost drowned out by the whoops and cheers of the men of his ship. “I mean, I thought this was what you- “

“Damn what I wanted, Andrews!” screamed Robert, pacing over to the port side of the bowsprit to look over at the now-falling ship. Hesitating only a moment, Robert ran back up to the rudder wheel and spun it hard to port. “Deck hands, secure the cannon! Tillman, close the steam vents and prepare for the drop!”

“But, captain, if the ship is so badly damaged that it cannot fly, then why are we pursuing- “

“How long have you known me, Andrews?” The captain’s question was not asked in anger, but in seemingly honest curiosity. Pushing the steam release handle to accelerate the ship’s descent, he stared patiently at Andrews for an answer.

“I have had the privilege… of, um… of working on this ship for eight glorious years,” stuttered Andrews nervously. Though the captain’s question seemed simple enough, rare was the day his questions were not, intentionally or not, loaded.

“Eight years, Andrews.” Stopping to pause a moment, he replied. “Eight years… Really? Has it been that long?”

“Yes, sir” he answered, not understanding where the conversation was going.

“It’s been eight long, sometimes difficult, yet always exciting and never boring years. So, tell me, Andrews,” the captain asked, tightening his grip on the rungs of the rudder wheel, “how many times have you seen me chase a crashing ship?”

“Never, sir.”

Looking back at Andrews, with a wink and a grin, the captain asked, “Then what does that tell you?”

******

Well, she completed everything that she should have done to this point. She had shifted the furnace vents on Maarc’s orders and closed off the coal door to boiler #5, her boiler. She, as well as the other boiler operators, was told to have a twenty-pound bucket of coal ready for when the ship leveled off.

Alex was jumping from point to point on the pipe works. The nose of the ship was pointed downward, so the floor that was once the way to get to the coal room was now a rather imposing wall. The steel mesh netting holding all the coal reserves from scattering across the ship was at the aft of the ship, and it looked like it was going to be one hell of a climb to get from her boiler to the sack.

Suddenly, her bucket was unexpectedly snatched from her hand. Looking to her left, she saw a shadowy figure scrambling across the pipes like ropers scramble across the overhead lines on the ship. His figure moved with a nimbleness that seemed to care little for the temperature of the pipes he was traversing.

“Back to station, Alex!” yelled Maarc across the roar of the wind from the plummeting fall, “Jeipferahn can fetch coal for all of the boilers before you can get your bucket up there to get your fill.”

Alex turned to Maarc and nodded, then released her grip on the cool supply line and fell. Landing like a cat on her boiler’s secondary plate, she clipped her work strap to the boiler door, to be able to use both hands more freely. As she adjusted her harness and replaced the gloves on her hands, the vibration of the ship’s descent caused one of her wrenches to come loose and begin to fall from the boiler side. With a deft movement of her hand, Alex caught the wrench and returned it to its holster.

“I really hope Maarc knows what the captain is doing,” whispered Alex, obviously worried.

******

Sylver tightened her grip upon the wheel and continued to go through the motions of a captain losing her ship. She had just given the order to loose a few of the dinghies (empty, of course) so as to simulate an order to abandon ship. Turning her gaze to her aft, she saw good Captain Robert’s ship adjusting course and beginning a very fast descent in pursuit of her ship. Apparently, either he didn’t take the bait, or he was determined to pursue them to the ocean’s surface.

The plan relied heavily on the precision of Maarc’s workers and the coordination of the ropers that were currently crouching next to the side railings on both the port and starboard sides of the ship, one hand on the railing for support and the other gripping barrels in netting baskets. Most importantly, it relied on Maarc’s reaction time when she pushed the steam handle to order the furnace vents shifted quickly, pour the remainder of the water into the furnaces, fire the furnaces quickly to level off their descent or their fake crash wouldn’t be fake.

Sylver watched the ocean draw closer to the ship and the speed of the H.M.S. Indefatigable increased in her descent. Seconds felt like hours as she plummeted further and further down. She knew the limitations of the ship, what few there were, and as the moment approached, she allowed a slight grin to cross her face. There was nothing in life like this in the entire world, she thought, nothing.

******

Good Captain Robert had already pulled away the main sails. They were slowing him down too much. It seemed that the empire’s crown jewel could not only fly faster than his ship, but it apparently can fall faster, as well. Hearing a strange noise to his left, he glanced over to see Boxyr Andrews gripping the railing and screaming like a child at Christmas. He was, at least, had he been Robert as a child.

He could hear the creaking of the deck boards as they fought against the air pressure as they fell from the heavens. He felt the rush of the wind, threatening to steal the very breath from his lungs. He could hear the cries and prayers of the men under his command. Though he was furious that little hussy would try such an obvious ruse on such a seasoned airman as himself, he allowed himself a slight smile since no one was watching. There was nothing in life like this in the entire world except death itself, he thought, nothing.

******

Captain Nightingale launched her plan.

Many things happened at once. At the absolute last moment, she pulled back on the steam throttle as hard as she could, as this would alert the boiler crews that they needed to get the boilers going quickly. She then turned her attention upwards to the ropers above her.

“Now!” she screamed.

Hearing the signal, three brave ropers began unfurling the main sail, cutting the tie ropes to get the main sail to drop quickly under the circumstances in an attempt to slow the quickly falling ship.

Almost immediately after the captain’s command, the smoke, which once bellowed from the side of the ship, stopped as the boiler workers re-routed the furnace vents. Maarc opened the main valve and the sound of gallons of water flowing quickly through the pipes to the boilers began to rumble and hiss. That water was the last of their coffers, including their drinkables, that were being siphoned into the boilers to hopefully stop the ship from crashing into the ocean below.

Looking back to the ropers on deck at the side rails with the barrels, she gave the signal, “Over the sides, Janden!”

“Over the sides, dogs!” yelled Janden.

The ropers heaved their barrels attached to winches overboard. The air caught the barrels much like wind socks at the sky docks. While the ship began to right itself, the barrels began dragging the surface of the water, quickly filling them with precious water.

Once filled, as she struggled to get a little more lift on the ship, the ropers were cranking on the winches with everything they had and dumping the barrels full of water (and a few fish) onto the deck where the reclamation pipeworks would add that water to their stores. By Sylver’s estimates, twenty eighty-gallon barrels should give them roughly a thousand gallons of water, accounting for a few failures and a few not quite full barrels. Even at a thousand gallons, it was easily enough to get away from good Captain Robert.

At least, it would have been, had Captain Robert been in a position to continue giving chase. Apparently, he had tried to pull up at the last moment, but the Black Sail did not have the maneuverability that she had in the H.M.S. Indefatigable. Turning to the aft while looking through her spyglass, Sylver saw that Captain Robert had slammed broad-bottomed onto the ocean surface, unable to pull up and right himself in time. The impact had affected their boilers, as she could see plumes of steam and smoke coming from the cannon ports, their deck, and just about every single crack or crevice the ship had open. Not only that but their yardarm was detached from the mast, the sails covering part of the deck and a few of their men.

Yet standing on the bowsprit of the ship, at its very furthest point, stood Good Captain Robert. As she watched him grow smaller through the spyglass while she increased distance between them, he took his hat from his head and, in a grand flourish, took a low sweeping bow in the direction of the H.M.S. Indefatigable. As Sylver lowered her spyglass, she came to fully understand one truth.

Good Captain Robert of the Black Mast was, indeed, mad.

******

The underside of the ship was filled with the noise of whoops and victory yells, rumbling boilers and hissing pipes. Alex was adjusting the heat to water ratio in her boiler, as the difference in the boiling point of saltwater versus freshwater was different and needed to be compensated for to properly propel the ship upward.

She felt a hand on her shoulder, even though her back was against the pipeworks on the inner hull. Looking to her shoulder, she saw thin, grayish fingers, longer than normal, partially draped with thin, knotty black hair coming from above. Turning her gaze upward, she saw Jeipferahn’s golden eyes looking down at her, a slight grin on his face, though his eyes did not reflect the face’s humor. His hallowed cheeks and inset eyes, with a skin that seemed stretched too thin for his size, gave him an unearthly look, almost haunted. In the dark underbelly of the ship, he was sometimes mistaken for a ghost.

“What do you want, Jeip? I have work to do.” She said this in as even of a tone as she could muster. Jeipferahn had always been a source of unease in the boiler room for his looks and the fact that it always seemed that he was there working, as if he never ate or slept.

“It looks like Maarc and the captain knew what they were doing after all,” he whispered. His eyes never wavered as he spoke.

“Good for us,” she retorted, as she turned her attentions to the dials and gauges in front of her. Thinking about what he said, she asked, “Why would you even say that?” She turned and looked up, only to see that he was not there.

“Because you should be careful what you whisper on this ship.”

Jumping and turning quickly, she was face to face with Jeipferahn. Her eyes were locked with his this time and could not look away.

“If I could hear you, then so could Maarc,” he whispered softly. Leaning closer to her, he continued, “And if you want to see him really upset, simply let him know that you do not trust his, nor the captain’s, decisions.”

Jumping suddenly, he latched onto one of the overhead pipes, moving quickly away. Before he left, however, he looked back one last time.

“Especially the captain.”

[NOTE: You can read the next chapter here!]

About Burt Kilgore

Burt Kilgore is an amateur writer, dispatcher, filmmaker, husband, father, and grandfather. You can find most of his work here, but he hopes that you will be able to pick up one of his stories in the future at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Audible.Com.

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