Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hellstrom Voyage Chapter 5

Hellstrom Voyage: Chapter 5, Beached

Several hours later, Captain Hellstrom was asleep in his bed, one of only two such luxuries allowed on the ship, the other being in the Royal Cartographer’s quarters, when a call from the deck sent him instantly awake.

He walked quickly to the door, taking his uniform jacket off the hook, noting how thoroughly Fournier had cleaned it. How he removed the blood was anyone’s guess and he probably wouldn’t share any of his “trade secrets” anyway.

Within moments the Captain was on deck, squinting into the distance. Lt. Castor had regained enough health to return to duty and limped over to him, “Good morning, Lieutenant, how’s the foot?”

The young man nodded formally, not wishing to show any pain or discomfort here on deck, “It’s healing nicely, Sir, whatever the Doctor did to me it seems to be working.”

The Captain nodded, again looking into the distance, “Report.”

“We’ve found her, Captain, she swam into that sheltered lagoon up ahead. She’s beached, Sir.”

The Captain frowned, turning to his Windmaster, Miss Theodorra, the closest thing he had to an expert on such matters, “I don’t understand, why is she still in her animal form. Unconsciousness usually reverts her to her natural state.”

The small girl looked up at him, eyes bright with tears, that’s all he needed was an emotional girl on board, “It’s the pain, Sir. Pain is primal. As long as she’s in pain, she will stay in the form and mentality of that creature. And washed ashore, her pain will only be increasing. She won’t last long.”

The Captain simply nodded, as if he’d received a report on the weather, “Lieutenant, bring the good Doctor up on deck, and that naturalist who got us all into this, I believe we have need of his talents now as well. Mr. Sawyer, I believe we can bring Constant into that lagoon. Mr. Star, check depth and call it out, just to be sure.”

Looking up almost directly into the sun, he called, “Mr. Ansel, keep watch on the horizon for sails. We still have a Mandelieu raider out there, unfortunately.”

The Royal Cartographer came up from behind him, eyes bright at the sight of an unknown shore, “Captain, if it please you, I would request permission to join the landing party as well, if nothing else in order to claim this land for Her Majesty.”

The Captain nodded, realizing Mr. Manfred was positively desperate to make a landing on an undiscovered land, perhaps a practice run in case their voyage, against all odds, was indeed a success.

In less than an hour, they were on the beach, dwarfed by the enormous leviathan they were there, somehow, to save. As the Cartographer claimed the island for Her Majesty, Hellstrom stepped ashore, not seeing anything to separate this island from a thousand others, except for the excellent depth and shelter afforded her lagoon.

Such a lagoon, on an unknown shore, would make an excellent place for a wounded privateer to run after encountering one of Her Majesty’s finest frigates, which is why the Captain had Mr. Ansel scrutinizing the horizon so intently.

Other than the strange, clump-like bushes that dotted the shore, this island could be any other he’d visited in his travels. Of course, it seemed much more interesting to the Doctor, Naturalist and Cartographer he’d brought along, all of whom were new to the sea.

He turned to his guests, watching as the second boat arrived, carrying Major Broughton and a dozen of his marines. It never hurt to be cautious.

“Doctor, this leviathan is your patient. You don’t have time to heal her, so we’ll need to put your knowledge of herbalism to use, hopefully you and the good Mr. Greeland, our esteemed naturalist can find some herbs on this island to deaden her pain and allow our First Officer to return to us.”

He noted the growing question on the Doctor’s face and cut him off, “Your stores on board Constant are not an option. We’re not going to exhaust our medical supplies this early in the voyage for a single shipmate. I’m afraid this island is our only hope. Miss Theodorra, give us some cloud cover and a light rain if you will please, that will give us more time.”

He looked over at the massive bulk beside him; already her breathing was becoming labored, as the leviathan was crushed under her own weight.

The Captain and Major Broughton stayed behind with their shipmate, her massive bulk rising and falling almost peacefully, even as the sound of her breathing took on a wheezing quality.
This close to Miss Medeirra, on this dreary island, made even more dreary by the dry sky and light rain summoned by Miss Theodorra, the first cracks in Major Broughton’s professionalism began to show through as he stared into the leviathan’s eyes.

The Captain, more as his oldest friend than his commander, put a hand on his shoulder, “She’ll be all right, Andrew. Somehow, I can just feel it. We’ll get her back.”

The Major looked at him, eyes cloudy, “You can’t know that. Her fate is in the hands of those lubbers, idiots the lot of them. Three very educated idiots. I even sent Sergeant Castillo with them to make sure they found their way back. Like to get lost and starve to death on this tiny island. And when she- if we lose her, she’ll die in this form won’t she. I won’t even have her back then. We won’t be able to end her suffering. A bullet to the brain wouldn’t even make a dent. And she’s so huge, we’d never be able to bury her. We’re just going to sail off on our Children’s Crusade, our last hope, while the sea gulls pick at my Castilian beauty.”

Suddenly his friend was gone, and his Captain addressed him, “Major, I have every sympathy. But do not speak as if hope is lost. The Mad Emperor might control the continent, but the fleet will protect the Island Kingdom. Their army will never set foot there.”

Broughton looked at him sharply, face taking on a sinister aspect as the water ran freely down the metallic side of his face, “Yes, the fleet will protect us. Like you protected-”

For a moment Captain Hellstrom thought they would come to blows, his friend was on the verge of saying something that could not be unsaid. Not only about his decisions in this most recent action but also the service to which he belonged.

Instead, a curious expression crossed the Major’s face and he pushed past him, walking over to one of the curious clumps of bushes the Captain had noted earlier. He suddenly reached up with both massive hands and pulled downward, revealing the stone underneath.
The Captain watched in growing horror as he pulled again and again, finally revealing a massive stone head, buried in the sand, snarling at the sea and whispered “By the Gods of the Righteous.”

The two men looked at one another. The sight of the statue shocking them out of their depressed state with the clarity of cannon shot from out of the fog across the bow. The young marines watching in stunned silence as both men stripped their heavy uniform shirts off, removing the buckles from their shoes, anything that might make noise or slow them down.

The Major approached Corporal Windmere, the third in seniority of his marines, “Corporal, form a firing line, two ranks deep. You will fix bayonets and hold this line in front of our First Officer no matter what happens. No matter what. Is that understood. You are to fight to the last man. No retreat, no withdrawal. Repeat my last order.”

The young man stuttered for a moment, distracted as the Captain pulled a small mirror out of his watch pocket and began signaling the ship but a quick shake from the Major brought him back to full attention, “I- I am to fix bayonets. Form a firing line. Hold to the last man.”

The Major nodded, as the Captain approached, turning the stunned young man to face him, “I’ve just signaled the ship. Mr. Sawyer is coming with two dozen hands to supplement your ranks.”

The Captain then turned to Miss Theodorra, shaking her physically to bring her out of the reverie she had slipped into, “Men from the ship are coming to help the marines defend this position. You are in command here on the beach. You are to fight to the last and hold this position. If we lose this position, I’ve ordered Lieutenant Castor to take command and bring the Constant home to the Island Kingdom. The Major and I are going inland to retrieve our charges. Hopefully it will not come to that.”

The young woman just stared him, as stunned as if he had just renounced Queen and country, “I, Sir, in command? But I’m not- I’ve never, Sir, what’s happening?”

The Captain checked his pistols, shifting his saber from its accustomed position on his hips to his back. He had tucked an extremely wicked-looking knife she had never noticed he carried before into his boot. He seemed a different man, more pirate than the staid authority figure of the ship. He had already headed off at a run to join Major Broughton, who stood impatiently at the edge of the thick, oppressive jungle.

“Near-men. And for God’s sake woman, stop that infernal rain. The men’s powder must stay dry.”

And with that they were gone, her attention fixed on the statue the Major had uncovered. Even the marines stopped momentarily in their controlled chaos to stare at it as the truth slowly dawned on them.

Near-men. Evolutionary throwbacks. Savage cannibals who had finally been driven out of the civilized lands over a century ago, in a war that had finally united all the true folk to put aside their petty political differences in a war of survival.

The true reality of the situation was still dawning on her as two more boats arrived from the ship, carrying Mr. Sawyer and the most level-headed of this conscript crew. The ebony giant walked up to the tiny girl and deferentially asked, “Your orders, Miss?”

She stared up at him for a moment, mouth working as though she were speaking but not a sound came from her lips. She noticed that the Corporal and his marines had turned to her as well.

Her orders?

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