Monday, June 29, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 40

< Chapter 39                                                                                                 Chapter 41 >
Forced to seek shelter from the windstorm, Callan and the Tercel wait for the storm to blow over.


The Tercel, Mordan’s tammar of the skies, huddled like a frightened rabbit in the lee of the rocky projection. The windstorm raged about us, sweeping rocks and sand and dust ahead of it. The storm’s detritus fell upon us, scouring the exposed deck and hull of the Tercel and what wind found its way around the alcove rocked the mighty airship as easily as a mother rocks her newborn babe.

I sat below deck, with most of the crew packed around me. Hand-picked crewman remained on deck, tied to their stations with safety lines and ready to cut the envelope free if the wind changed direction and brought its full strength to bear on us again. If I understood the concept of the storm machine properly, the wind could only change directions if the machine moved. Captain Jorson was unwilling to gamble my life and the lives of his crew on my meager understanding of galactic technology and I couldn’t fault the man for that.

The youngest members of the crew—from ship’s boys of nine or ten years to the junior ensigns, who were all of twelve or thirteen—were gathered around me. Captain Jorson placed the lot of us in the most protected position below deck. Sweat ran freely down our faces as heat gathered in the enclosed space. Wide, young eyes darted all around the inside of the airship, drawn to every creak and crack of the hull. The ensigns strove to emulate the outward calm of their superior officers, but they were simply too young to pull it off.

“I suppose all of you fine young men have heard all about David’s—Captain Rice’s—arrival on Aashla?” I asked.

The ship’s boys nodded shyly while a chorus of “Yes, Your Highness” rose from the ensigns. One added, “When I was little, I heard Megan the Bard—um, Mrs. Bane—sing The Scout and the Princess once.”

The other boys cast envious looks at the ensign, prompting me to say, “Megan will be back on Aashla in a few months. I’ll see if I can arrange a concert for the Tercel’s crew. But have you ever heard the story from someone who was actually there?”

Nine boys shook their heads in unison, eyes widening in interest rather than fear.

“Rob, the captain of my guard, and I stood by ourselves against at least two dozen trogs. I was certain the end was upon us. That’s when he arrived…”

Small mouths hung open in wonder as I wove the tale I knew so well. It was my son’s favorite bedtime story, after all. Beyond the ensigns and ship’s boys, the older crew slowly fell silent, drawn into the story as well. I raised my voice as more and more men cupped hands around ears in an effort to hear me over the wind. I lost myself in the telling and it was only when Captain Jorson bellowed for all hands on deck that I realized the storm was over.

As the crew scrambled to their feet, one of the ship’s boys looked up at me and solemnly said, “Don’t you worry none, Your Highness! We ain’t gonna let nothing happen to Captain Rice!”

With equal solemnity, I nodded to the boy. “I have complete faith in the Tercel and her crew.”

Those around me passed my words to those farther away, who passed them on until the whole crew knew. As I emerged from the hold onto the blessedly cool deck, Captain Jorson met me with a formal salute. All around us, the crew worked with steady speed to ready the airship for flight.

“The crew is truly inspired, both by your story and your faith in them.”

“They are Mordanian airmen, Captain Jorson,” I said as if that explained everything. To members of the Mordanian Navy, it did explain everything.

“Exactly so, Your Highness!”

Less than five minutes after I emerged onto the deck, the Tercel rose into the predawn sky. The mighty steam engines came to life and the airship’s propellers churned the air. Tercel gathered speed, reaching its normal cruising speed within twenty minutes—and still she kept accelerating.

“Keep the pressure up, lads!” exhorted the airship’s engineer from the stern. “It’s better for us to show up early and Captain Rice not need our help than to show up late and find him desperate for it!”

“Mister Montgomery,” Jorson called to the engineer, “can the engines take much more of this?”

“Aye, sir! They’re my engines!” Indignation evident in both his tone and posture, Mister Montgomery added, “May I also remind the Captain the engines are highly sensitive and likely to take affront if they hear you questioning them?”

“You may assure them it was only concern for their wellbeing which prompted my question, Mister Montgomery.” Captain Jorson turned away from the engineer and caught sight of my raised eyebrows. “Mister Montgomery is eccentric, but he is also the best engineer in the fleet.”

As the airship approached speeds even my good friend and pilot Nist would consider acceptable, I found myself forced to concur with Captain Jorson’s assessment. The sun peeked over the distant horizon and quickly spread the bright light of dawn over the desert before us.

I was concentrating on the mountains ahead of us, sure the galactics’ mountain base must be near, when the lookout shouted, “Sir, there’s fighting around the wreck of the Vanguard!”

Will Tercel arrive in time to help David and the crew of the Vanguard? Find out in Chapter 41, coming Wednesday!