Our hero's list of enemies grows even as it appears life is settling down for him.
Friday, May 31, 2013
< Chapter 37 Chapter 39 >
Our hero's list of enemies grows even as it appears life is settling down for him.
Our hero's list of enemies grows even as it appears life is settling down for him.
Shortly past dawn, a Mordanian naval squadron spotted us. Ships were dispatched to search for Stubb's airship and take any survivors into custody -- especially Raoul and Windslow. Another ship was sent to recall Martin's fleet, carrying an invitation to a ceremony in honor of their victory in the Battle of Faroon. The rest of the airships formed around the Pauline as an escort.
We arrived in Morda late that afternoon. Cheering crowds welcomed home their monarchs. The streets were filled with rumors about a heaven-sent stranger who had rescued their princess. Well, I had fallen out of the sky.
My favorite part of this story told how this pure hero had cleansed the dark soul of the raider Martin Bane. To my surprise, Martin loved that part! He embellished it, claiming Windslow had corrupted his soul, forcing him into a life of evil from which he could not break free -- except by my purity of spirit, of course. Martin hasn't had to buy drinks for himself in weeks.
Raoul was captured near the wrecked airship, though Windslow was nowhere to be found. When presented with the full story, King Damon ended his marriage and then banished both Raoul and the former queen. Raoul and Rupor blamed me, of course.
Meanwhile, the court was busy planning our wedding. Weeks of dealing with tortuous details almost drove me mad. But when I saw Callan enter the cathedral, I realized all the minutia had been worth it. She had never been more radiant!
We gave our vows, paraded through the streets, danced, and socialized with Callan's subjects. No, with our subjects. It was many hours before the two of us finally found ourselves alone in our chambers.
We fell into each other's arms and, at long last, were as one.
Our hero and his beautiful wife look forward to spending peaceful years together. But far to the south, forces have been set in motion which could ruin their plans. Get your first hint of those forces in Chapter 39, coming Monday!
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Callan ran to hug her father. "Oh, thank you, Daddy! It wouldn't have been the same if I married David without your blessing!"
The king's eyebrows arched and the queen said, "But you'd still have married David, wouldn't you?"
"Of course, Mom," Callan said. "Did you even have to ask?"
King Edwar clasped my hand, "Congratulations, David. I hope you can find a way to keep Callie under control."
In unison, Callan and Queen Elaina turned to face us, crossed their arms, and arched their left eyebrows.
"As long as she and I are headed in the same general direction, I expect we'll be fine," I said.
"You picked a smart young man, Callie. I'm happy for you," Queen Elaina said. "But now we have a less pleasant task. Edwar, Callie, we must explain the situation to Rupor."
When the royal family entered the cabin, Martin came out. "From the look on Callan's face -- and yours, for that matter -- congratulations are in order."
"Many thanks, Martin," I said. "How do you think Rupor will take the news?"
"I'd say he already suspects," Martin said. "He'll be polite, but he's never going to like it -- or you."
Ten minutes later, Rupor emerged and offered coldly polite congratulations to me. With that formality out of the way, he added, "I had great plans for Tarteg and Mordan -- plans you have ruined!"
"I ruined nothing, Rupor," I replied. "Without the plotting of your step mother, Callan would never have been in the desert for me to rescue. And don't try blaming Martin, either. He only did what she hired him to do."
Rupor didn't argue, but his eyes spoke for him. I added Rupor to my growing list of enemies.
Now our hero has two Tartegian princes as enemies. What problems could come of that? Find out more in Chapter 38, coming Friday!
Monday, May 27, 2013
< Chapter 35 Chapter 37 >
Callan has asked her parents to give their blessing to her proposed marriage to our hero!
Callan has asked her parents to give their blessing to her proposed marriage to our hero!
King Edwar didn't offer an answer. I could feel Callan tensing as her question hung in the air.
"Edwar," Queen Elaina said, "that question is traditionally answered by the father."
"Hm? Oh, right," Edwar replied. "I have some questions to ask, first."
I guess my answers to his earlier questions hadn't been sufficient.
"What is your opinion of Prince Rupor?" the king asked me.
That question was unexpected!
"Rupor's charming if he wants," I said, "and arrogant if it suits. I'd trust him to have my back in a fight but wouldn't want him to marry my sister."
"You have a sister?" Callan asked.
"Yeah. You two would get along great," I said.
"That's a fair assessment," King Edwar said, "and I don't want him to marry my daughter." Callan clapped her hands together in excitement. "But I still wonder what you would bring to the marriage, young man. You're brave, capable, and willing to die for Callan. But so are all of our royal guards. What makes you worthy of Callan?"
Exasperated, Callan dropped formality, "Daddy, I say he's worthy! Isn't that enough?"
I spoke before the king could reply, "That depends on whether the emergency message from my spaceship was delivered. If it wasn't, you already know what I'll bring to the marriage. If it was, I can give her the stars."
"That's quite an offer," the king mused. "And I suppose Callan couldn't be safer than if her ablest guard was sleeping with her."
"Oh my," Queen Elaina said, "Callie's blushing!"
"Why-?" the king began. "Oh, blast, I didn't mean that! Though if they're going to be married-"
"Daddy," Callan interrupted, her cheeks still red, "does that mean yes?"
King Edwar smiled, "Yes, it does."
Our hero gets the girl! But will they live happily ever after? Get your first hints in Chapter 37, coming Wednesday!
Friday, May 24, 2013
< Chapter 34 Chapter 36 >
What, oh what, can Callan's parents wish to talk to our hero about?
Martin gave me the thumbs up signal as the soldiers helped him below. He had confidence in me, it seemed. I hoped it was not misplaced.
The king crossed his arms but said nothing, apparently content to watch me handle the Pauline. The queen clasped her hands and did the same. Silence never bothered me. A Scout First Class might spend months alone in his spaceship. I could wait them out.
Five minutes later, King Edwar said to the queen, "Elaina, I don't see what Callie sees in him."
"Oh, I do," Queen Elaina said, a ghost of a smile on her lips. "Besides, you haven't watched him in action, dear."
"Humph." To me he said, "Why don't you tell me what you see in my daughter?"
"She's feisty," I said without hesitation.
Neither of them were expecting that answer. After a bit more silence, Queen Elaina said, "What do you mean by that?"
I smiled, "Callan is intelligent, courageous, strong-willed, and compassionate. She can even be practical, if you yell at her loud enough."
The king said, "You left 'beautiful' off your list."
"Your Majesty, I rather thought 'beautiful' was a given."
"Yet it's the first -- usually the only -- thing most men notice," the king said.
"Possessing beauty simply makes one beautiful," I said. "Callan's other qualities make her compelling."
"Did Callie give you those responses?" King Edwar asked. "Never mind. Callan has told me a bit of your adventures together. I would hear the full story from you."
So, I told our tale as I piloted the airship. Callan came on deck near the end.
At my questioning look, she said, "Nist and Martin will recover."
Callan wrapped her arms around me and I completed the story.
"So father, mother," Callan said, "do we have your blessing?"
Does the crash-landed Scout get the girl? Find out in Chapter 36, coming Monday!
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
< Chapter 33 Chapter 35 >
Nist lies at our hero's feet, a quarrel between his should blades, as the Pauline flies to safety.
The flaming airship dwindled, screams floating across the distance along with the twang of taut lines snapping. The airship began dropping as the crew raced to land the ship before they burned to death or the hull broke free from the gas envelope and plummeted to the ground.
Free from pursuit and out of range of the other airship's weapons, I released the controls and ran to the cabin. Tristan was tending to the soldier with a leg wound, Rupor and Callan helping. A blanket covered the body of the guard hit in the chest.
Callan's eyes lit when she saw me, but my words weren't directed to her. "Tristan, Nist and Martin were hit! You should check Nist before we move him."
The color drained from Tristan's face as he scrambled to his feet. "Princess, keep pressure on the wound."
The unwounded soldiers followed, one carrying a lantern from the cabin. Moments later, a less pale Tristan had the soldiers carry Nist below, then turned his attention to Martin.
"You'll live," Tristan pronounced, then started back to the cabin. "I'll call when I have time to work on you."
"Great bedside manner he's got," Martin said.
"I don't know," I replied, taking the helm again, "he was quite solicitous with Milo's sister. Of course, she is a lot prettier than you."
Martin's lips quirked up in a smile, "That settles it. In my next life, I'm going to be a pretty young woman."
Light spilled from the cabin as the king and queen came on deck and headed our way. The two healthy soldiers followed.
"Help Mr. Bane below and stay with him," the king told the soldiers. To me, he continued, "We have much to discuss."
What can the king and queen wish to say? Is our hero's future with Princess Callan in peril? Find out in Chapter 35, coming Friday!
Monday, May 20, 2013
< Chapter 32 Chapter 34 >
With Nist and Martin wounded and the Pauline's controls unmanned, our hero will soon be at the mercy of Raoul!
"Do something, David!" Martin gasped. "Get them off of us for a minute and we can outrun them."
I looked about the moonlit deck for something -- anything -- I could use for a distraction. Nothing sparked an idea.
Spark! That was it!
"Martin," I said, "can you light a lantern one-handed?"
"And make us easier to shoot?" Martin asked.
The latest volley struck. Dashing from cover, I grabbed the airships's stern lantern, snagging a mooring line as I dove for cover. Three quarrels struck where I'd been just a second ago.
"Light it!" I said. "Trust me!"
Holding the mooring line, I jumped off the airship's side and swung around toward the bow. The Pauline blocked Raoul's men from shooting me. I snatched the bow lantern and was swinging back before they could target me.
The stern lantern was burning when I ducked behind the crates again.
"Thanks, Martin!" I said. "Light this one while I'm gone."
"Gone where?" Martin asked.
The latest volley struck. Taking the lit lantern, I charged toward the stern. The pursuing airship loomed no more than eighty feet behind us.
At the rail, I flung the lantern. It arched into the night as I ran back for the second lantern. Shouts erupted behind me as I dove behind the crates, took the second lantern, and ran back to the stern. The dry wood of the airship's hull had caught quickly, spreading fast as the crew tried to fight a fire they couldn't reach.
The second lantern crashed into the middle of the crewmen. Rope, wood, and clothing blazed and panic spread.
I rushed back to the helm and shoved the throttle to full. With a roar, we sped away into the night.
Can our hero finally relax and take time to unravel the web of conspiracies against the Mordanian royal family? Find out in Chapter 34, coming Wednesday!
Friday, May 17, 2013
< Chapter 31 Chapter 33 >
Raoul's men are firing on our hero, even though Rupor is in the line of fire!
The air hummed as a quarrel flew past me, driving into the deck with a thunk. Other quarrels missed the airship entirely, their passage marked by sound alone.
"Your Majesties, Your Highnesses," I said, "into the cabin, now! You too, Tristan."
Tristan shepherded Callan and her parents, but Rupor stepped to my side.
"I will not cower below while the ship is under attack!" he said in a low voice.
"If we get boarded, you're welcome to join the fight," I said. "But right now we're running away. The only people who will stay on deck will be those setting shields for our pilot."
Martin and the soldiers were already putting supply crates up to protect Nist. One of the soldiers cried out as a quarrel buried itself in his chest.
"Help carry that man below deck," I told Rupor, "and then stay there!"
Rupor hesitated, nodded, and ran to help carry the wounded soldier to our doctor.
Raoul's crossbowmen were getting organized, firing in rotation and keeping us under a near constant barrage. Another soldier went down with a quarrel through his leg. The other two soldiers carried him below deck, just ahead of another rain of quarrels.
Martin and I rushed to build a shield before the next volley of quarrels hit. One of those quarrels hit the crate I was placing on the stack. Next to me, Martin grunted in pain as a quarrel buried itself in his shoulder. I pulled him down behind the crate wall. With a sigh, Nist collapsed next to us. A quarrel was buried between his shoulder blades.
With no one to man the controls, the Pauline slowed and Raoul's airship rushed toward us!
With our hero's allies dropping like flies, how can the Pauline hope to escape from the larger airship? Find out in Chapter 33, coming Monday!
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
< Chapter 30 Chapter 32 >
With a dozen crossbowmen on Stubb's airship, Raoul prepares to fire upon our hero!
I tensed, ready to risk Boost again. I couldn't block a dozen quarrels, but I could protect the queen. Raoul raised his arm. No doubt, dropping it would be the signal to fire.
"Get behind me, Your Majesty!" I said, stepping in front of her.
Our pursuers had come to a stop. Windslow grinned, nodding in approval. Rupor's head swung between his brother and me, his eyes wide in apprehension.
"No, Raoul!" he yelled.
With a roar, the Pauline crested the outer wall and smashed into the larger airship. Raoul and his crossbowmen staggered. Ragged twangs sounded as the crossbowmen fired involuntarily. Quarrels flew unaimed, one of them slamming into the shoulder of a pursuer. The other men dove to the ground, leaving Rupor the only one of them standing.
Nist worked the Pauline's controls and flew straight along the wall toward us. Martin and the soldiers lined the rail, ready to toss ropes to us.
Without conscious thought, I shouted, "Rupor, come with us!"
Rupor broke into a run, sheathing his sword.
On the Pauline, Martin yelled, "You're kidding, right?"
"No," I shouted, wrapping an arm around the queen. "Throw him a rope!"
Ruper grabbed his rope with ease and began pulling himself up.
"Hold on," I told the queen, pulling her close against me with one arm and catching our rope with my free hand. We were yanked into the air.
To avoid the tower ahead of the airship, Nist steered over the edge of the Aerie's walls. A thousand foot drop yawned beneath us. The queen buried her head against my chest as we were pulled up. Those few seconds seemed an hour long.
As we were pulled to safety, a crossbow quarrel struck the airship. Raoul was giving chase!
Will the Pauline's speed be sufficient to get away from the much more powerful airship? Find out in Chapter 32, coming Friday!
Monday, May 13, 2013
< Chapter 29 Chapter 31 >
Our hero has to get off the castle wall before Stubb's airship joins the chase!
The roar of the airship's engines deepened and I could detect movement in the castle courtyard. Ponderously, Stubb's airship emerged from the shadows and into the moonlight.
"You can't get away with it, Rice," Rupor called, as he chased us across the wall. "The airship will cut you off before you reach the other tower."
"Drop the act, Rupor!" I called back, picking up speed in the hopes of proving him wrong. "You and I both know you're the one trying to get away with kidnapping!"
"Why would I kidnap my future parents-in-law?" Rupor said.
"So you could rescue them, putting yourself in a good light when the actions of your step-mother and Raoul come to light!" I replied.
"You're not making sense, Rice!" Rupor yelled over the growing engine noise.
As when I'd mentioned Windslow's name, confusion was evident in Rupor's voice. Perhaps he wasn't involved.
The queen slowed, resisting my pull, "He's right, David. You're not making sense. Why not stop running and explain it to us?"
"That might work out for you," I said, "but Raoul or Windslow would make sure it was fatal for me!"
Stubb's airship swung up over the castle wall, just over a hundred feet behind us. It bore down on us, already flying twice as fast as we could run. Raoul was perched at the bow of the ship, pointing at me with his sword and directing the airship's crossbowmen.
Our eyes locked over the distance and a grin stretched over Raoul's face. "It's the end of the line, bodyguard. Prepare to die!"
How can our hero hope to escape the vengeful Prince Raoul and the crossbowmen under his command? Find out in Chapter 31, coming Wednesday!
Friday, May 10, 2013
< Chapter 28 Chapter 30 >
Our hero prepares to fight to the death for the queen!
The door rattled from another blow.
"Would you mind being a bit more practical and little less heroic, David?" the queen asked.
"Uh, sure," I replied.
"Good. Come over here with me, next to the door hinges," she said. "When the door swings open, it will cover us. The men may run for the stairs, giving us a chance to run out the door."
I joined her as the door shook again. "And if they don't?"
"Either you'll die heroically or I'll choose to surrender," the queen said. "Whatever I decide, you will obey my commands."
"As you say, Your Majesty."
Another blow struck the door. The knife was holding better than I'd hoped, but now I needed the door to swing open. I wrenched the knife from under the door, standing up just ahead of the next blow. The door jamb broke and the door swung open, hiding the queen and me.
Footsteps pounded toward the stairs. We waited for the men to reach the far wall before slipping around the door and out onto the wall -- just like the heroes in the adventure vids from my childhood! Behind us, one of Rupor's men raised the alarm.
"Sir, they're behind us!"
And the chase was on again, with Rupor and his men trailing us by no more than thirty feet. I pulled the queen along with one hand and sheathed my sword with the other. I expected to need a free hand for a door before I needed the sword again.
From the Aerie courtyard, I heard the roar of engines -- Stubb's airship joining the chase. If we didn't get off the wall, we'd be easy targets for Stubb's airborne crossbowmen!
Can our hero and the queen get off the castle wall before coming under fire from Stubb's airship? Find out in Chapter 30, coming Monday!
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
< Chapter 27 Chapter 29 >
The Pauline has flown off, leaving our hero and the queen!
Hearing the door below us crash open, I asked, "Can you run, Your Majesty? I need to keep my sword arm free."
"Yes, I can," the queen answered. As I swung her to her feet, she continued, "You said your name was David, did you not?"
"Yes, ma'am." I took her hand and began running along the wall toward the next tower.
"That little airship you were watching -- Callie and Edwar are aboard? It was our way out of here?"
"Only if we reached it before Rupor and Raoul arrived," I said. "Otherwise, my orders were to leave us."
"Why would you give such orders?"
Shouts erupted behind us as Rupor's men spotted us.
"A kingdom requires a monarch and an heir," I said, running faster. "That airship carries both."
"You're a very practical man, David," the queen said as we reached the tower door.
To my relief, it opened, but there was no way to bar the door. Drawing my knife, I jammed it under the door. It would slow our pursuers.
The tower had stairs, but they only went up. That was out. We'd be easy targets for airborne crossbowmen at the top of the tower. Worse, there was no other door out of the tower.
"I'm afraid this is where I must make my stand, Your Majesty," I said.
"After watching you fight, I have full confidence in you," the queen said.
I sighed. Boost was our only hope -- and likely my death sentence. "You must run from the tower as soon as I clear a path for you."
"And what of you?" she asked.
"I'll be dead."
The tower door shook from a sharp blow. I raised my sword and prepared for one last fight.
Will this fight be one Boost too many for our hero? Find out in Chapter 29, coming Friday!
Monday, May 6, 2013
< Chapter 26 Chapter 28 >
Blocked by a stuck door, our hero is about to be caught by Rupor and Raoul!
The queen was limp over my shoulder and no longer beat on my back. Maybe she'd decided to trust me. Maybe she'd been overcome by stress. I hoped for the former.
Seeing my struggles with the door, Rupor and his men slowed to a walk. "You can't escape, Rice. Return Her Majesty to me safely and I'll make sure you get a fair trial."
"The queen has already spotted Windslow," I said. "It wasn't very smart bringing him with you. In fairness, I doubt you were expecting her to be out of her cell."
"Windslow?" Rupor asked, his brow drawing down. "Who is Windslow?"
"Ask Raoul," I said.
While bantering with Rupor, I'd considered my options. There was but one option and it wasn't a good one. If the Exploration Corps ever found me, I was going to be quite the case study on the effects of Boost. At least I'd Boosted for half a minute earlier.
I spun and kicked the stuck door. The latch held firm, but the hinge side of the door moved an inch. Giving thanks for rusting iron, I gave the door another spin kick. The door pushed open a couple of feet. Releasing Boost, I ran through the door.
"After them!" Rupor shouted. "Raoul, get back to the airship and get it aloft! Maybe it can block their escape."
Beyond the door, I found just what I needed. I sprinted up the stairs, hoping the next door opened on the first try. With the squeal of rusted hinges, it did.
The top of the wall stretched out before me, bathed in moonlight. Silhouetted against the moon, I spied the Pauline flying away.
The queen and I were trapped in the Aerie!
How can our hero hope to escape with his only way off the Aerie gone? Find out in Chapter 28, coming Wednesday!
Friday, May 3, 2013
< Chapter 25 Chapter 27 >
Rupor, Raoul, and company are coming to the 'aid' of the queen!
I was staging one heck of a rescue. The queen's suspicions had been aroused when I told her Martin was on our side. Imagine if I tried to convince her that Rupor and Raoul weren't the heroes she thought they were?
Boots pounded closer to our passageway. Explanations would have to wait -- it would take Callan to convince the queen I was the good guy, anyway. Right now, we needed to run.
I grabbed the queen and threw her over my shoulder. Or I tried. The queen stiffened, refusing to bend over my shoulder. I couldn't outrun anyone like this! I lifted the queen's legs, holding her like a wooden board. It was still awkward, but I could run.
The queen beat and scratched at my back, calling, "Help me! A raider has me!"
Our pursuers rounded the corner just in time to see me turn into a side hall.
"There he is!" Rupor yelled. "Save the queen, men!"
Rupor didn't sound believable to me, but the queen kept shouting.
"Quiet, Your Majesty!" I said. "They aren't the friends you think they are!"
"Foolish man, Rupor is my daughter's betrothed!"
"He wishes!" I said. "Look at our pursuers, Majesty. Do you see an older man with wild, gray hair?"
"Don't you recognize him?"
"I don't-" The queen gasped, "Windslow?"
"Yes," I said. "Strange company the princes are keeping, don't you think?"
I took the first side passage I'd seen. It ended in a door.
"I don't know what to think!" the queen said.
"Trust me," I said. "Callan does."
Rupor and company charged into the side passage as I reached the door. Hoping to find stairs, I turned the knob and pushed. The door was stuck fast!
Our hero can't go forward or backward and is trying to help a queen who may not trust him! Can our hero hope to get out this situation? Find out in Chapter 27, coming Monday!
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
< Chapter 24 Chapter 26 >
Time is running out before the airship with Rupor and Raoul arrives!
Freed, Her Majesty observed, "You carry Captain Vonsteader's sword, young man."
"I'm afraid Rob lost his life defending Princess Callan," I said. "He gave me the sword before he died."
The queen bowed her head, "Callie must be devastated."
"She hides it well and recent events have kept her busy," I said as we started up the passage.
"The raider who's coming, is it Bane?" the queen asked.
"No," I said. "A lot has happened since the kidnapping, Your Majesty. Martin Bane currently works for your daughter."
The queen stopped walking, "Surely you jest! Callie would never do such a thing."
"Callan needed someone to fight a trog invasion of southern Mordan," I said. "She hired Martin. Considering what he did for Faroon, I expect the city will build a statue in his honor."
Eyes wide, the queen stared at me. She looked to be wondering if I really was who claimed to be. I should have kept my answers short and simple, maybe then I wouldn't have made her suspicious. Taking the queen gently by the arm, I urged her along.
"We've got to keep moving, Your Majesty," I said. "Time is short."
She took reluctant steps and we moved slower than I'd have preferred, but at least we were moving. We were thirty feet from the hallway that led to the Pauline when I heard voices.
We stopped and listened. There could be no mistaking the voice.
"What else was I supposed to do, Rupor?" Raoul said. "Mother-"
"Shut up," Rupor said. "Your ineptitude forced me to act."
The queen's face lit up and she called, "Rupor! Raoul! Save me from this raider!"
Boots clattered on stone as my enemies rushed toward us!
How can our hero rescue the queen when she doesn't trust him? And what will happen when Rupor and Raoul see him? Find out in Chapter 26, coming Friday!