Duke Forecastle - Part 23
“The Anchormen saw the bird fly out from our sails, right toward them, and they did not fire at us again,” said Fawksull.
He cocked his head, feeling bemused. “I sometimes wonder if it might have been as simple as that. Just...show our hand, have the eagle hover in the air between our ship and the enemys’. Because I’m certain they held their fire for fear of croaking it. It covered the entire distance between us and the Anchorbar fleet unmolested.”
“Even in the heat of battle...” wondered Captain Penny, the slight-built blondish man seated in the middle of the sofa.
“Even so,” said Fawksull. “Superstition runs strong, as I’m sure you’re aware. Though, by this point there really was no heat to the battle, per se. Only a terrible tension. My own crew, the few who were left alive, stood fixed at their posts, awaiting the final blast that would send us below. I was alone on the quarterdeck, with only Carrack’s body for company.
“We all watched the eagle fly right into the midst of their formation. It attacked the nearest ship at once, a low schooner or clipper. It was hard to see exactly what the bird was doing at that distance, but I know that it followed my orders. It picked up someone from the quarterdeck, dragged him overboard, and dropped him into the sea!”
The captains straightened on the sofa. Chins went up, eyes widened.
“I tried to keep a watch on it. I focused my mind on repeating its silent orders. Find the lubber, the odd one on deck. Especially anyone in armor. Fly in, capture, and drown them. Use all your luck! Fly back here when you run out. I didn’t know if it would understand all of that, but it had seemed to, before it disappeared from my view.”
“What about the quakkens?” asked Captain Cottle, the gray-bearded man at the nearer end of the leather sofa.
“Yes, I tried to order our quakkens into battle as well,” nodded Fawksull. “But you know, they don’t take orders like tamed units. They wouldn’t stray far from the Double Eagle. It was up to the bird to save us, with its six points of Luckamancy.”
The Governor folded his hands on his lap, smiling at them. His story was nearly at an end. The sun would soon rise, and these confidants of Cat Harping would sail away in a turn or two. He didn’t envy them. Probably, they’d be headed for a major battle. At least he had armed them with something worthwhile, something the Royal Navy didn’t want them to know. These captains might or might not ever have the privilege of commanding a tame double eagle; the Navy probably wouldn’t allow it. But if the Anchormen showed up with one, at least they’d know what they were up against.
“Well, we’re here!” said Cat, smirking at her officers and stealing a bit of his thunder. “So obviously, it did its job.”
“It did,” admitted Fawksull. “I believe it managed to pull five first mates or second officers overboard. The Anchormen finally started to attack the bird; I saw beams fly. But I think that only made things worse. Some of the ships had quakkens attacking from below, some were struck by friendly fire. I don’t know if the eagle could fill up its reserves by causing critical fumbles while it was in close or engaging. Their beams looked pretty wild, but that could have been panic.
“I only know that the eagle’s attack left the Anchorbar fleet in complete chaos. The little schooner capsized, and the fleet formation broke apart and ran, in two directions. Three or four of their ships were badly damaged and imperiled. Those barely escaped the hex, being dogged from below by their own ducks.
“The rest just didn’t know what they were dealing with, and wanted out. There was a leadership gap, you see. Their fleet admiral had gone down with the man-o’-war, we later discovered. Bit of good luck for us, there.” He winked.
His audience wore triumphant grins and began to make congratulatory noises at him, but he held up his hand.
“Hold on. The Anchormen escaped the hex, but, ah...their quakkens didn’t follow,” said Fawksull. “To the northeast, I could see two yellow forms making straight for our ship. To the southeast, three more. And we had no more bread.
“Meanwhile, off to the east...”
He paused and swallowed, surprised at himself for feeling so strangely emotional, all these hundredturns later.
“To the east,” he said, his voice a little hoarse, “I saw a tiny little brown bird, flying crookedly. It was struggling to stay in the air with a broken wing, and make it home.”
After a moment’s pause to refill his cup and gather himself, Fawksull said to the captains, “You know, Hashtag’s Guide to Water-Capables mentions frequently that you can’t use beam weapons on quakkens or other submarine units. The Shockmancy won’t penetrate the surface of the water.”
A couple of them nodded in assent.
“So I could not shoot. And I could not move the ship. Which I must say, ah, limited my options,” said the Governor wryly. “At this point, I remember actually thinking about going below, putting on a white hat, and trying to bake some bread.”
There was laughter. At the time, Fawksull—Forecastle—hadn’t been familiar with the process. But he’d learned later that it took a full turn with crew units manning both ovens to bake barely enough bread to keep one quakken friendly.
“Hashtag’s said I had only one real option left, and it wasn’t a good one. But I called, ‘all harpooners on deck!’ Then I stood at the rail, and watched my poor, crippled eagle try to outrace five angry quakkens.”
Images of the moment flooded back to him: how broken and splintered his ship looked, and how much the deep slash in his side added to his weariness. His legs and his sword arm ached. He longed to sit down. Lay down. Fall down. Jump into the water and drown.
But the eagle had it worse than he did, and it was still fighting. In addition to its stiff, bent wing, one of its two heads appeared to be doing all of the flying. The other hung limp. He’d cringed to see it flopping around with each agonizing wingbeat. As it came more fully into view, he could again see its stats: Hits: 1/20, Luckamancy Reserve: 0/30
“The race ended in a tie, effectively,” continued the Governor. “The pod of three feral quakkens reached us just before the eagle, and our friendly quakkens began to fight them, defending the ship. The poor bird alighted on the quarterdeck rail, ferociously wounded, but defiant. I wished I’d had a fish to feed it, to give to its one alert and undamaged head.
“But instead, I ordered it to curse all my harpooners but one. Gummel, who’d helped me locate the porthole.
“The other pair of quakkens were approaching from starboard. I had no way to tell the friendly ones from the unfriendlies, so I ordered all the pooners except Gummel to focus their throws against those two beasts.”
“I can imagine how that went,” grunted Captain Eleven, whose dress blue uniform sported strangely wide lapels.
“However you imagine it, Captain,” said Fawksull, “it was worse. Not a single harpoon even made it overboard. Two of the six pooners wounded each other. And the other wild harpoons ended up damaging the ship in small ways.
“But that was all right, ultimately. Even that was a form of good luck. It allowed us to retrieve them to throw again! Meanwhile, the eagle’s Luckamancy reserve had gone up to one...”