Friday, 15 January 2016

The Quest for Verdisc (part 12)

The Unexpected Morale had continued around the side of the Marauder’s Atoll, on and on, until it found what looked like a landslide. The valley may have looked criss crossed with debris of stone and wood alike, but the Morale disappeared into it all the same. Which was very bemusing for a certain green coated Trident Holder.
Zephyr Abrams had seen the girl in the blue coat fire the crossbow and had fallen in love. He didn’t know whether it was the fact that she was the first girl he’d seen in ten months, or whether it was the fact that she was oddly beautiful, but he had decided he was in love quite quickly. Then, when he’d seen her clambering up the front of the Morale, he’d known the only thing he could possibly do was go and attempt to the rescue her. He had leapt onto the life boat attached to his ship, the River Legacy, untethering it as he did, and then activated the outboard motor. The ship roared, the engine on the back spewing forth rippling waves and foamy wash. As the Trident Holders were busy trying to save Nexelspire and assembling their battle formations, Zephyr had raced after the Morale. He’d been careful, knowing full well the power of his quarry. He’d followed it for the first fifty nautical miles, and then he’d begun to float in another direction. The Trident Holders were catching up, and they would no doubt declare war. He may only be an apprentice Trident Holder, hence the green coat, but he knew the essential fact of existence: the Holders’ war barges would be torn apart in mere moments, never mind his life boat. He wanted to be watching the battle from as far away from possible.
Now, having witnessed the battle, he wished he’d watched it with his eyes closed. He’d seen the River Legacy burning, seen the Captain leap from the prow. He was the only crew member who’d escaped, but he’d died nonetheless when another of the Trident Holder barges crashed into the Legacy and filled the space with a ball of fire. As the battle had raged on, Zephyr had navigated the boat through the choppy waters far port side of the Morale, keeping parallel to it. When the last ship had burnt, Zephyr began to trace closer to the Morale. And that was when he’d seen the Marauder’s Atoll. He hadn’t quite recognised it yet, as it didn’t exactly fit the picture he had in his mind. The Marauder’s Atoll was the stuff of nightmares, the type of thing that young Trident Holders were told to keep them up at night. He had imagined it as a skull shaped blot of Hell, nothing but brimstone glowing with embers, the same crimson as an innocent infant’s blood. He could imagine it as upsetting the landscape around it, revolting the beautiful nature of it’s surroundings. He certainly hadn’t imagined it as just like any other island, a bit of grass in the centre of the sea. As much as it ashamed him to admit it, he was slightly disappointed. 
He watched the Morale circle the island, and then disappear through the collapsed valley. He turned off the outboard and itched his head, allowing the lulling of the waves against the hull of his wooden life boat to assist his thought process. “How’d you do that?” He asked himself.
He looked towards the valley and then decided that the best option was to swim towards it. Nothing was more invisible than a lone man swimming.
Zephyr strapped the trident to his back and threw himself over the side of the life boat into the water. Years ago, at the age of five or six, he would have felt like he was freezing to death. Now, however, as he entered the water, he could feel more relaxed. He’d taken a deep breath, so his lungs were filled, and began to swim towards the valley. It was guarded by fallen vines and leaves, but he discovered they moved out of the way quite easily. As he swam, he discovered that the valley opened wider behind the vines. He also discovered it wasn’t a valley. It was as if a blast of mighty force had driven the bordering rock faces part, widening the gap between to allow something as large as a ship to pass through. He looked up through the murky water, lit only by where the sun penetrated the overhanging leaves far above, and saw holes in the wall where he could imagine arrows chasing from. There wasn’t much to be learnt from above, so he turned his attention to what was beneath the surface.
Protruding from piles of mossy skulls were spears and sharp spikes. He could tell, from the colour of the blue paint on their tips, that they were poisonous. He swam up a bit, but remained under the surface, pulling himself forwards through the water. He pulled a bamboo shaft from his pocket and stuck it through the surface of the water. He began to suck on the fresh oxygen, but his lungs weren’t the part of him that were affecting him. His eyes stung as bits of debris and dirt washed into them. He knew that if he closed his eyes, he’d end up never opening them. He just had to soldier on, and lament the fact he’d forgotten his swimming goggles from the Legacy later.
He decided he was glad he’d kept his eyes opening, however, as a glowing light began to cut out of the murk before him. He swam a little quicker, urging himself onwards, and then when the glow was around him, he broke the surface of the water.
“Qamatha above.” He whispered.

The Black Addison crept closer to the island, Pontsher carefully tending the wheel whilst Davelron went and prepared a grappling hook at the prow. Marcus stood by the Mechanical Wizard, staring out to the Marauder’s Atoll.
“Heard of it, kid?” Pontsher asked. Marcus turned around to answer but the old man interrupted it. “Course you have. I can see the terror in your eyes.”
“Mum and Dad used to tell stories of it when we were young. And there was the game we always used to play.”
“What game?”
“The pirate game. It was more of a girl’s thing but sometimes we played with them. Someone would stand in the middle of a big circle of people who would walk around them, chanting the song. Marauder’s Atoll, Marauder’s Atoll, never there been a place so cold. Keep your pace. Keep your pace, less the Captain take your face.” Marcus shivered. “We’d repeat it over and over and then the person in the middle, the Captain, would leap out and try to catch someone. Everyone would run away, but if you got caught, you became the Captain.”
“Landlubbers.” Pontsher said.
The thudding roar of the grappling hook became suddenly evident. There was a moment of silence, but for the crash of the waves against the hull and the screech of the fans at the rear of the boat, and then Davelron shouted, “Kill the engines, Pontsher. I’ll reel us in.”
“Aye, kapteni!” Pontsher shouted. He removed his trident from where it was protruding from the floor and the engines behind him gave out and died. The world seemed to become quieter for a moment. And then the screeching of the grappling hook grew louder as the Addison was drawn over towards the island. The thud of the hull as it hit the rock jutting out from the Atoll nearly caused Marcus to fall to the floor.
“If she’s scratched,” he heard Davelron mutter under his breath. 
“I’ll go get the torches.” Marcus said, hurrying towards the entrance to the hull. 
“Slow down!” Davelron cried. “We’re going no where at this time of night. Without torches, we may stumble into traps, maybe even die. With torches, we might burn down the forest, or alert the Morale to our presence.”
“Then what’s the plan?” Marcus asked. He put out the magical arrow on the door, and in the process quenched the green flicker which illuminated them. 
“I spotted a cave further up the Atoll. We’ll wade up to it and camp for the night. When the sun rises, we’ll hide the Addison in the cave, get our weapons and go and find Emilia.” Davelron said. “If you ever want to be a proper Trident Holder, you need to remember this: your enemies are idiots, so you beat them by being clever.”
Davelron grabbed his trident and buttoned up his long blue jacket. He slung it through the scabbard on his back and then swung himself over the side of the Addison. Marcus heard a loud splash as the Trident Holder entered the water. “This is deeper than I expected!” He shouted. “Much deeper!”
Marcus let a grin dance over his mouth. The Mechanical Wizard stepped towards the side of the ship and looked over. He raised his hand and a green glow began to illuminate the side of the Addison and the water. Rocks lifted from the side of the Atoll, float through the air, and dropped into the ground. There was a sudden sizzling and then the rocks, or at least the top of them, were dry. 
“Thank you.” Marcus said to the Wizard. Pontsher wandered over and passed Marcus a jacket and a short sword. As Marcus pulled the jacket over his shoulders and slid the sword into the scabbard on his belt, he noticed Pontsher placing a longsword on his back. 
“Ready, lad?” Pontsher asked.
Marcus nodded.
The big gentleman picked Marcus up and lifted him over the side of the Addison and placed him on the makeshift stepping stones. Then he jumped over the side of the Addison, almost falling in the water, and reached up again to help the Mechanical Wizard out. They danced across the stepping stones, over towards the cave. When they reached it, they went inside and Marcus said, “It’s very dark in here.”
“I’ll light a fire.” Pontsher said. Marcus heard the click of a lighter and then a small flame dancing in the dark of the cave. “Kapteni, do you have anything we can burn?”
Davelron reached towards his belt and took a small tube, maybe the length of his middle finger. He popped the lid off and drew a small column out of it. “Light this, it’ll burn for twenty hours unless doused. Then, it won’t burn until it’s been doused. When it dries, it’ll burn again. It’s called-“
“A Broser Stick.” Pontsher said. He weighed it in his hands and then lit it, putting it down on the floor. Sudden heat and bright light filled the cave, to such an extent that Marcus had to unbutton his jacket. Davelron’s trousers, damp up to just before his groin, began to dry.
“Curious,” Davelron said, “that you’d know what a Broser Stick is. Can’t say many do. The Addison only took stock of them four docks ago, and when we did that they were brand new.”
“We got them on our ship, the Marvellous Knight, a week before, well, before I was thrown over board.”
“I get the sense there’s a story you haven’t told us.” Davelron said.
“Allow me to rectify that.” Pontsher said. He rubbed his hands together and leant forwards to tell a story. 
“We should be going after her.” Marcus said. “Not telling stories.”
“For reasons I’ve already told you, it’s too dangerous to go after her.” Davelron sighed. “Now, I realise you’re worried for her, that’s completely understandable, but brash and reckless action will achieve nothing. So, despite your opinion, it may in fact be telling stories that saves her. Okay?”
“Yeah.” Marcus said.
“Good.” Davelron replied. “Pontsher, good fellow, if you’d like to continue?”
“Yes, of course.” Pontsher said. “I was a Boatswain on the Marvellous Knight. We’d just docked in the Court of Holders, then after we’d raised the anchor, we started making haste for New Tunisia. We were running cargo supplies, coal and mining equipment, that type of thing. We were making good haste, good enough haste to reach New Tunisia by the turn of Glenmoon. The Captain, Luben Negrini, and I were talking about some repairs I wanted to make to the heater in the hull, when we saw the mist on the horizon. We did as procedure states; lit the fog lamps, blew the horn. A couple of the apprentice boys, they even suggested we send a raven to Batters Point, the local light house. I went down, wrote a message, wrap it up and put it on the raven’s leg when they all went crazy! I tried to calm them but none of them would even entertain the notion. I locked the cage, went back up the deck and that was when I saw why. It’s like what they always say in the old songs.”
With them a storm havoc wreaking, and then the gulls a-shrieking. The crew be dead, the seas be red, the Morale’s decks be creaking.”
“The Unexpected Morale?”
“Yes. It was cutting towards us through the water, guns blazing. The apprentices were killed in an instant, the gunner not long after. The Master was shot down as he attended to the Captain, who’d had his leg blown off. I saw them both go up in flames. I leapt off the deck, into the water, and no sooner had I done that than a cannon ball found the Knight and blew her to smithereens. I swam as far as I could, but the Morale sent out boats to search for plunder and bodies. They found me, hauled me up, and took me on deck. They were facing with guns and swords and crossbows. One of them, the First Mate, he swaggers up to me. Asks me whether I’m a girl. The crew laughs. I tell him I’m not. He asks me how old I am. I tell him I’m old enough to be his father. He says, “I always hated my father.” We’re talking, the men growing tighter around me. I knew I was going to die. My only hope was to wait for a distraction, throw myself overboard. Then maybe, just maybe, I could be rescued. As it happens, you found me and saved me, but I’m sure you can see it could have been the other way.”
“What was the distraction?”
“They’re beating me, kicking my chest and my legs. The First Mate, he keeps saying he wants to keep my face pretty. The Captain of the Morale, well, he doesn’t want the faces beaten. I’m screaming. I figure there’s no point trying to be brave now. Bravery isn’t going to save me. The First Mate, he’s screaming at me. These vile, terrible insults, and then suddenly I hear, ‘Please, Scabby, enough with the vulgar excrement falling from your mouth. That’s no way to treat a guest. Allow me. I am Beaumont Cantrell, Captain of the Unexpected Morale. You have taken refuge on my ship, and so I simply ask you for a small gift, a thank you if you will. That gift is the kind donation of your physiognomy.” Pontsher shivered. “The crew, they part before me to reveal the Captain. He’s standing there, in a long black jacket, a blood red sword in one hand, and all I can think is: the stories are true. The stories are true! He stood before me, the Captain, and he didn’t have a-“
“Marcus!” Davelron exclaimed.
Pontsher looked around and saw that Marcus was missing. “What in the name of Qamatha?”
“He must have sneaked off. Stupid boy.” Davelron stood and drew his Trident. “We’ll have to find him before he get’s us killed!”

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