Duke Forecastle - Part 24

Duke Forecastle - Part 24

“I wanted to go down to the hold, to watch through the porthole and direct the quakkens,” said Fawksull, “but I wasn’t certain I’d even be able to tell which ones were ‘ours.’ And anyway, the battle above the waterline was just as important. I had to command the pooners, and the eagle.”

He rubbed his hands together, pulling all of the old details together in his mind.

“I called Gummel up to the quarterdeck first, where I stacked with him and the eagle both. Then, I ordered the eagle to use its one point to bless him. Specifically, to bless his throws.

“By this time, the other pair of ferals had joined the undersea fray, and the ship was taking some bumping from below. Gummel held his big harpoon at the ready, and we both looked down over the starboard rail. The water rippled and churned as these huge yellow blotches darted around beneath us. It was all but impossible to tell which ones were friendly.

“I wasn’t certain whether to tell Gummel to throw at any random one or not. Harpoons against a quakken were not going to bother it much, so we needed a crit. But what if the Luckamancy point was wasted on just making sure he didn’t hit the wrong target? I thought perhaps—”

“Governor,” interrupted Admiral Harping.

She hadn’t used his title much, since they’d sat down. “Hm?”

“It’s almost dawn,” she said, leaning toward him. She looked tired. “I would rather have these commanders back in their respective quarters, before everyone else rises. They’ll never get the whole story at the rate you’re telling it.”

Fawksull blinked. “Yes,” he said, taking a deep breath. “Of course. Sorry, Admiral.”

“I think they get the idea about what the birds do,” she said. “And by now, they know you’re not a coward. Or a fool. You just like to talk.” It was a kind enough rebuke, and Fawksull returned her smile with a crooked little nod of acknowledgement.

Cat looked over at her captains. “We lost all three of our quakkens in the fight. But they managed to croak two of the feral ones first. The quakkens prefered to fight each other, rather than hitting the ship. So Fawksull used the early part of the fight to build up the eagle’s points up to three, using more wild harpoon throws.

“Then he used the points to bless the pooners, who croaked the other three ferals with lucky crits, just as they started hammering the ship. Double Eagle was left in deplorable condition, barely floating. But the Anchormen didn’t return to the hex on that turn. Got it?”

They all nodded and mumbled.

Fawksull gave Cat a purse-lipped, “fair enough” shrug. “I’m, uh...not quite certain where to pick up the story after that...”

“The next morning,“ she said, narrowing her eyes at him.

Ah. Another reason she was eager to advance the story. After the sun had set that day, and no other Anchorbar ships appeared, he and Cat had shared the big bed in the captain’s stateroom. She didn’t want him to mention this fact. Understood.

To be fair, though, she’d insisted. And he’d been a Noble about it, he supposed. They both were wounded, exhausted, and the bed had lots of room. They had lain there together in the dark. She took his hand, weakly. He curled around her, laying on his non-wounded side. And then they both slept beautifully until dawn.

“The next morning...” he began again. “Well, I have to admit to you: I rose right before dawn and climbed up to the quarterdeck, just to be near to the eagle at start of turn.”

He looked down at the tea table. “Cat’s right. I was pretty badly cut. And I’m sure I felt relieved when the sun peeked up over the water to the east, and all of my aches and wounds were healed. But what I actually remember is the intense joy I felt when that silly bird’s limp, ugly head lifted up and blinked at me. I had a fish in one hand, all ready for it. And a bucket of them at my feet.” He looked up at them and smiled. “Sorry if that’s, um, sentimental.”

The captains didn’t seem to think he owed them an apology.

Cat cleared her throat. “Fawksull...” She pointed up at the lightening gray patch of sky, visible through the sitting room’s skylight windows.

“Yes, right...”

“We reassigned crew from the survivors,” Cat said, “but the ship was too damaged. So we effected minor repairs and managed to get her up a single point of move.”

The Admiral then pointed an accusing finger at Fawksull. “He wanted to resign as captain,” she said.

The captains looked at him with surprise, but he shrugged. “To crew the boat with all seafarers,” said the Governor. “Maybe stretch our move to two.”

A ship’s move was a function of the total move of all seafarers in the crew, divided by a hidden number derived from the ship’s design and sailing condition. Stepping down in favor of adding a seafarer to the crew might have worked. Duty would have allowed it, because there was a good tactical reason. It still made sense to him.

“We only needed one move, to go back into the storm hex,” said Cat dismissively. “But the point is, neither I nor anyone else on board would hear of it. Every unit on every deck agreed: we would accept only one commander. Him. Forecastle. The lubber. When he argued, we nearly had the first mutiny in history intended to keep the captain of the ship!”

Forecastle felt his cheeks flush. “She’s exaggerating,” he mumbled. “And I still say you should have taken over command.”

“Why did you return to the storm hex?” asked Captain Penny.

“So they couldn’t see we had no more quakkens,” said Admiral Harping. “We actually used the longboats to orient the ship, and then sailed—if you can call it that—back into the storm.”

Fawksull nodded. “It’s no fun, being in a leaking boat in a storm hex, but it was our best bet. They scouted us there, but we sent the bird at them and they retreated. We stayed there for another whole turn, just focusing on repairs. Got some steering. Got some leaks shored up. That brought us up to five move.”

“We took an oblique course away from there,” said Cat, “trying to lose them. But they kept scouting us, one ship only. They moved in and out of the hex before we could sight them, or send the eagle after them.”

“Mm,” said Fawksull. “I don’t think the eagle would have helped. I suspect they were keeping their lubbers below by then. It wouldn’t have been so easy to sink them. We kept expecting them to show up in force, since they should now be able to see we were without quakkens. But I suppose they could still see the bird.”

“For three turns, all they did was track us,” said Cat. “I think they knew they could crush us anytime, but they wanted to see where we were headed.”

“In the meantime, I was mainly concerned about the eagle’s Luckamancy. I tried having the crew play cards and dice. I tried fishing, and anything else we could think of with an element of luck to it. We had exhausted the bird’s reserve to zero in the battle, but five full turns later it had only gained one point back. And I don’t even know where that point came from. We were not ready to face the Anchormen.”

“Then came the turn,” said Cat ominously. “The turn with the gun whale.”

Fawksull took a deep breath and sighed it out. “I’m glad you all have heard this story, and maybe you think I’m not really all that stupid or incompetent. Because if there ever was a true ‘Forecastle’ move, then it’d be what I did next...”