Duke Forecastle, Part 3

Duke Forecastle, Part 3

Duke Forecastle‘s tour of the Unsinkable II included learning a few new terms.

The ship‘s three masts, from front to back, were called the “foremast,” the “mainmast,” and the “mizzen.” The mastlike protrusion (“spar”) jutting out from the bow of the ship was the “bowsprit.”

The perpendicular timbers that held up the sails were called “yards,” and it was from there that the ship‘s “beam weapons” could be fired. These were blasts of Shockmancy stored in the masts, the total power of which was determined by the ship‘s design, condition, and crew, in much the same way that move was calculated. (A small degree of her offensive power was something else that Forecastle‘s presence in the crew was costing this ship.) Standard ship-to-ship tactics were to pull alongside an enemy vessel and fire a “broadside” of blasts at them all at once. But the spars could also be fired individually, and the bowsprit could shoot forward.

The bow in “bowsprit” was pronounced like “ow.” But the “bowline”–either the rope that was tied to the bow for some reason he instantly forgot, or the ever-present knot that shared its name–was pronounced “BOH-lin.” Similarly, the edges along the top of the ship were “gunwales” (pronounced “GUN-els” so as not to be confused with gun whales, one of the many types of sea monsters they might encounter out here). And yes, the upper front portion of the ship was called the forecastle, pronounced FAWK-sull.

Duke Forecastle missed his eponymous city.

He‘d chosen a group of six seafarers not attached to the crew as his guides. Below decks, the Unsinkable II‘s three hundred and ten passengers passed the time playing low-stakes games of cards and dice, composing and singing bawdy ballads, and generally being bored (and often drunk). He was forbidden from giving orders, but it wasn‘t hard to locate volunteers for such a simple little mission. Finding sober ones was only a bit harder.

The jolly group of six men and women showed him the ship, from bow to stern, fore to aft, keel to pennant, and port to starboard (“STAR-bed”) across the length of the beam (the widest part, at the “waist” of the ship). He learned the sailors‘ names (Lisa, Noel, Neko, Eric, Arbo and Sondre) but forgot which one was which before the tour was over.

He saw the main stem, the bulkheads, the belfry, the gangways, the hatchways, the tiller, the whipstaff, and most of the hold. They pointed out to him the trail board, the gratings, the brackets, the cat-head, the carlines, the knees, the spirketings, the chain pumps, the well, the capston, and the keeljon. On deck, they showed him the rigging, carefully pointing out the halyards, lifts, braces, buntlines, leachlines, clewlines, crosstees, futtock shrouds, tackle, spindles, caps, tacks, stays, trucks, crowfeet and stumps. They named each part of each mast, spar, and yard for him.

At some point, he began to suspect they were making up some of these terms for him as a joke. Shortly past that point, he ceased to care.

He supposed that he‘d had it in mind to acquire some functional equivalent of the Seafarer special just by watching and learning. He may not have been able to do anything about his effects on the ship‘s stat points, but if and when things came to battle he wanted to be ready. He wanted to learn enough to be a functioning member of the crew.

But somewhere between “knees” and “spirketings,” he was forced to conclude the idea was impossible. It wasn‘t that he didn‘t understand what he was seeing. It was that he couldn‘t retain so much detail all at once. A clear picture refused to form in his mind, showing him how all of these endless fixtures and bits worked together to be “the ship.”

He would have called off the effort, but Admiral Chequer and Cat Harping were both watching him closely from the quarterdeck, as were many of the crew. There wasn‘t much entertainment to be had on deck. The whispers and sniggers and occasional volleys of laughter from up in the rigging suggested that he was at least providing that service to the crew of the Unsinkable II.

So he took the full tour, feigning interest at every detail the sailors pointed to. When a halfway intelligent question occurred to him to ask, he would ask it. This would inevitably lead to an excruciatingly long and pointless answer, and a fight to keep his eyes wide open.

By the end of the turn, his neck was actually sore from nodding along.

When he finally felt comfortable calling the outing to a close, he thanked the group of sailors for volunteering their time. “You‘ve done a quite, ah, thorough job of educating me on the ways of the sea. But I‘ll let you go now. You are dismissed.” He said it formally, but was careful not to put the weight of an order behind it.

They went respectfully, but in a hurry. No doubt they‘d have stories to tell below, about Duke Foolcastle‘s gaffes and his ludicrously ignorant questions, and about the jokes they had put over on him. (“Then I said, no that‘s not the ‘wall‘ sir, we call that the ‘spirketing!‘ Bwa-ha-har!”)

Forecastle crossed over the main deck, his bootheels clunking over the planks as he stepped around wooden barrels and coils of rope, and the taciturn sailors who did not make way for him. The pitch of the ship was gentle, and the late morning air was warm and breezy.

And the Admiral‘s eyes were still upon him.

He cast his own gaze down and made his way astern (or “abaft?” he still wasn‘t clear on that) toward his quarters. Chequer didn‘t have to worry; Duke Forecastle the Landlubber planned to lie in his bunk and pretend not to exist for the rest of the voyage, just like the man wanted him to. He opened the hatchway that led inside to the quarter galleries. Huh. He remembered those terms correctly, at least.

“Warlord,” said Admiral Chequer from the quarterdeck above.

Forecastle took a step backwards, into the sunshine, and squinted up at the man. “Admiral?”

Chequer was standing stiffly on deck, teeth bared into the breeze. Navigator Harping was standing at rest just behind him. The wire-haired woman tilted her head as she looked at him. “Dine in my stateroom tonight,” he ordered. Then he turned his eyes to the horizon and said nothing else.

“Yes, sir,” said Forecastle. After another moment, he ducked inside.